Blade of Dream by Daniel Abraham epic fantasy book reviewsBlade of Dream by Daniel Abraham

Blade of Dream by Daniel Abraham epic fantasy book reviewsBlade of Dream is Daniel Abraham’s second book in his KITHAMAR trilogy, though to call it a “sequel” is a bit of a misnomer as rather than directly following the events of Age of Ash, this new story parallels that first book’s events in time, actually intersecting with a few scenes here and there but mostly, or at least somewhat, acting as a stand-alone novel. That said, while one can read this without having read its predecessor, having read book one will better inform certain events, particularly at the end.

Kithamar is the sprawling city setting, one dividend into several districts with some clear class (and some racial) distinctions. Both books begin with the death of the city’s ruler, Byrn a Sal, and then flash back some months beforehand to introduce our main characters, in this case Elaine a Sal, daughter and heir to Byrn; and Garreth Left, eldest son of a major merchant family that has — unbeknownst to others — fallen on hard times.

Garreth is going to be forced to marry into an alliance to help strengthen his family’s fortunes, but a chance encounter with Elaine and a single night together changes all that. Without knowing who she actually is, Garreth falls for her and so backs out of the impending marriage, joining his childhood friends as a member of the bluecoats — the city guards. His storyline, along with trying to find a way to reunite with the mysterious young woman he met, involves trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, coming to some sort of resolution if not reconciliation with his family, and performing his duties as a guardsmen, which includes a plan to try and take down Aunt Thorn, a (possible the) criminal underworld boss. Meanwhile, Elaine and her father move into the Palace after the death of the prior ruler, and Elaine has to adapt to her new role, and the sense of obligation and loneliness it brings. Worse, her father seems to be changing before her eyes, and she worries there is some dark secret at the heart (readers of book one know she is not wrong).

As with that first book, Blade of Dream is a slow burn, an interesting distinction between Abraham’s fantasy novels and his more propulsive science fiction ones like THE EXPANSE. Whichever genre he works in, though, and at whatever speed, Abraham always presents us with richly developed and complex characters who grow and change throughout the course of whatever tale they’re involved in. That holds true here as well. And again, as is typical with Abraham, it doesn’t hold true just for the two main characters but for each we meet, from Garreth’s friends Kannish and Maur to their guard captain to Elaine’s best friend Theddan and even quite minor characters such as several other guardsmen, a servant in Garreth’s house, and others.

As for the two main characters, part of this story, as with the first book, is a coming-of-age tale, albeit with older characters as well as characters from more privileged realms of the city. That privilege, though, doesn’t mean they have a sense of agency in their own lives, similar to the more impoverished characters from Age of Ash. Both Garreth and Elain are young people with all the confusion of self and place in the world that entails, a confusion that is only exacerbated by their entanglements with each other, issues that arise with their friends, and of course the “darkness” at the core of this fantasy story. And these issues arise and are resolved in the messy, sometimes incomplete, and often bittersweet way they often are in real life. Here, for instance, is Garreth re-entering his once-home:

Daniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham

The subtle scent of the lemon oil that Serria had the maids all use brought back floods of memories he hadn’t realized were locked away until that moment. Being no taller than a table, stretched out on the floor while his mother hummed to herself in the next room. The one maid — Kayyla? Kavva? — who’d worked for them the summer Garreth turned fourteen and the doomed longing he’d developed for her. The sound of Vasch clopping down the hallways pretending to be a general leading a great army … That the moments were lost made them sweet … [They] took on a patina of melancholy because they could never happen again … The boy who rested in the sunlight and his mother’s unconscious song was gone … Everything rose and was lost. Every decision ended the other paths that a different choice would have opened. Including all the lives in which this might be Garreth’s home.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that focus on “decisions” that we get at the close of that passage. Several times Garreth, for instance, tries to claim he did “what he had to.” The kind of statement, justification, one often hears. But here he’s called on it — whether he did right or wrong, nothing he does is inevitable; he does not what he “has to” but what he “chooses to.” If the first book in this trilogy focused much of its time on grief and loss, here I’d say the exploration is into choice and consequence. (I’d also put community and history and two other key subjects).

Nor is it just the young who get to wrestle with such concerns, as we get several thoughtful and often moving speeches from older characters revealing their own problems, though not the same ones coming as they do in the latter stages of life rather than the early ones.

The plot, while not “action filled” in the usual sense still has more than a few chase and fight scenes as well as several scenes of heightened tension and is as richly complex as the characterization. It’s also built on a wonderfully evocative foundation that I won’t detail here but is not just fascinating in its logistical explanation but also beautifully conveyed in terms of language and style. Abraham has always written smooth, vivid prose, and his dialogue is always somewhat paradoxically wholly natural sounding and also at times wonderfully eloquent (the guard captain has an utterly fantastic speech near the end I won’t ruin by quoting). Here, he also uses the change of seasons that mark various sections of the book to dip into a gorgeously lyrical and more poetic style (one that, while I could be wrongly remembering this, seems to be something he is more prone to in his fantasy than his sci-fi). Here, for instance, is the city in winter:Blade of Dream by Daniel Abraham epic fantasy book reviews

The promise of thaw remained only a promise. The city pulled into itself, retreating from the cold like a snail folding itself into its shell. Only not entirely. People skated on the river, sliding across the white expanse for the simple joy of the movement. Little stands set up in the squares with iron stoves like tiny forges made to warm cider and wine at three coppers for a mug.

Honestly, reading this book, the way Abraham lets it takes it time to develop, kind of has the feel of sipping a cup of hot cider or wine in a cozy room while snow falls softly outside. I’ll grant the pace isn’t for everyone, but personally I love its gradual immersion into place and people. Actually, while this might not be a “blow one’s mind” book, there is little if anything I didn’t love about Blade of Dream. Pace — yep. Language/style — yep. The cubist sort of trilogy structure — yep. Characters — yep. Theme — yep. I can only think of two things I’m unhappy with it: that it ended, and that I’ve another year before book three arrives.

Published July 2023. Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories endure. This is Garreth’s. Garreth Left is heir to one of Kithamar’s most prominent merchant families. The path of his life was paved long before he was born. Learn the family trade, marry to secure wealthy in-laws, and inherit the business when the time is right. But to Garreth, a life chosen for him is no life at all.  In one night, a chance meeting with an enigmatic stranger changes everything. He falls in love with a woman whose name he doesn’t even know, and he will do anything to find her again. His search leads him down corridors and alleys that are best left unexplored, where ancient gods hide in the shadows, and every deal made has a dangerous edge. The path that Garreth chooses will change the course of not only those he loves, but the entire future of Kithamar’s citizens. In Kithamar, every story matters — and the fate of the city is woven from them all.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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