fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Daniel Abraham The Dagger and the Coin 1. The Dragon's Path, The King's BloodThe King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham

The King’s Blood is the worthy follow-up to Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path, which was one of my top reads last year. The book picks up where the first left off for the most part and continues on with the same major characters, as well as adding a few others (and subtracting some of the originals).

The story continues some of the basic storyline, but offers up a lot of new plot. Geder Palliako is the new hero of Antea based on the events of the prior book, and here he continues his meteoric rise, becoming even more powerful as Antea embarks on war with its neighbor. With this rise, however, he gains powerful enemies who question not only his goals but those of the strange priests he brought back with him. Cithrin has managed to avoid prison or worse based on her deception that allowed her to create a new branch of the Medean Bank, but now chafes at the limitations her “official” status now brings. Dawson, the arch-conservative noble, continues to fight for his image of what the kingdom should be and damn the consequences, while his wife Clara tries to hold their family together despite those consequences. And Kit has decided it is time for him to throw off his new life as a player and bring an end once and for all to the spreading evil of the spider goddess, which leads to a hard choice for Marcus.

There are also pirates, assassination attempts, battles, dragon graves, conspiracies, and betrayals aplenty. Which makes it sound like there is a lot more of the typical “action” in this book than in the first, and I suppose that is true. But to be honest, The King’s Blood didn’t really feel all that “action-y.” And I don’t mean that in any bad sense whatsoever. I think what happens is the writing is so smooth and engaging, the characters so intriguing in themselves and in their relationships with each other, that the action just kind of slides by without jumping out at you or feeling like a frenetic action movie. This doesn’t mean the novel is any less compelling. Just as with The Dragon’s Path, I zipped through The King’s Blood in a single long sitting and didn’t feel a moment’s lag.

Characterization, as mentioned, remains a strong suit and the multiple-point-of-view structure does a nice job of enhancing the characterization by not only offering us looks inside each character’s head but also seeing how the other characters think of them. As I said in my review of the first book, the point of view also often gives the reader a more intimate connection with the character, an almost kneejerk empathy (at least for a while), which is only strengthened by seeing their actions from their point of view since few “evil” characters see themselves as evil. This makes reading point of views from someone like Dawson, for instance, all the more interesting as it’s hard not to detest what he’s fighting for (the “right” for everyone to stay in their place) while also admiring his willingness to die for those wrong beliefs and his sincere belief that they are to everyone’s benefit. On the other hand, it’s also impossible not to fault his rigidness or his certaintyThe Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham

The problem with “certainty” is one of the themes of this book; we see it from several views and few of them flattering. As when Kit tells Marcus:

“Truth and lies, doubt and certainty. I haven’t found them to be what I thought they were. I dislike certainty because it feels like truth, but it isn’t.”

Another theme that seems to run through is the idea of hidden layers and of how the past, as Faulkner once said, is not even past, a concept we’re introduced to on the very first page:

Camnipol was older than the kingdom it ruled. Every age had left its mark here, every generation growing on the ruins of the old until the earth below the dark-cobbled streets was not soil, but the wreckage of what had come before.

A theme picked up by Dawson later on:

There are no clean starts… Just as there are no clean endings. Everything is built like Camnipol; one damn thing atop another atop another reaching down into the bones of the world. Even the forgotten things are back there somewhere, shaping who and what we are now.

The other points of view beyond Dawson’s, to varying degrees, also contain this complexity. Geder, for example, both horrifies the reader and engenders pity. Marcus is mostly admirable, and yet also, to a lesser degree, gives pause to the reader at times with some disquieting actions. All the characters are wholly engaging and compelling, with the possible exception of Kit, and that mostly because we just don’t see much of him and what we do see is pretty singularly focused. What I especially like about them is their range, something rare in fantasies where even when we get multiple points of view they tend to be relatively interchangeable storylines. Here we see the typical court intrigue and some battle scenes, but we also see the bank workings (such as repos and foreclosures) and some more domestic troubles, which are no less important than the political ones to the characters they happen to. Just as strong as the individual characterizations are the portrayals of the relationships between them. The standouts here are the marriage between Dawson and Clara and the partnership between Marcus and Yardem (and here I confess that nearly every time Yardem spoke to Marcus, I heard it in the tone and voice of Zoe from Firefly. Every time.)

The worldbuilding is perhaps a bit more fully formed in The King’s Blood, which is not a major surprise. We get a bit more on the differences among the races (some of this in a glossary at the end). Even better, we get a bit more history with regard to the Dragon Empire that began the whole thing. We also get to see more of the world as several of our characters travel to new places.

The prose is still not as stylized or poetic as Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET, but I’d say its closer to that style than The Dragon’s Path was. Having read both books in single sittings thanks as much to the fluidity of the prose as much to the plot, I had a sense (though it’s been a year since I read the first book) that I found more lines in this one that struck me as particularly lyrical or well crafted.

This has been a good year so far for fantasy, and The King’s Blood is another in the list of fine fantasy coming out. It’s going to be a tough top ten this year, I’m thinking. Highly recommended.