I’ve been a big fan of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet and The Price of Spring, its concluding volume, confirms my view that it is one of the more original and best-written fantasy epics in recent years.
If you haven’t read the third volume, An Autumn War, stop reading here as you’ll run into spoilers for that book.
As has been the pattern in the series, the story picks up years after the events of An Autumn War. Otah and Maati reappear as major characters, while other familiar faces show up in relatively minor roles — Balasar Gice, Cehmani, Sinja, Idaan, and others. New characters, both major and minor, are added to the mix, including Otah’s daughter Eiah, his son Danat, Danat’s betrothed, and several poets-in-training. An Autumn War ended with the destruction of the poets and the magical Andat, but only after the Andat Sterile had made the women of the Khaiem and the men of Galt infertile. Fifteen years later, both nations are already having difficulties and the prognosis for worse is obvious: without children, labor is becoming scarce, farms are going unworked, businesses lose essential workers, the armies and navies are aging and will in a few years’ time be unable to defend the borders.
The book opens with Otah attempting to negotiate an agreement with Galt to send willing members of the fertile genders of each sex over to the other country so the two countries can survive Sterile’s curse. As part of his negotiating, he agrees to have his son Danat wed to a prominent daughter of Galt, Ana Dasin, but the betrothal goes nowhere as smoothly as Otah had wished.
Meanwhile, Otah’s daughter, believing that this agreement demeans all women (viewing them as useful only for their reproductive ability), has left the palaces and joined with Maati, who sees Otah’s treaty as a sell-out to the Galts who had destroyed more than half the Khaiem cities in a bloody invasion. To stop Otah and to reassert Khaiem power over Galt, Maati has gathered several women in an attempt to teach them to be poets and regain the power of the Andat. It quickly becomes apparent that along with Vanjit, whose entire family was killed by the Galts, Eiah is his best pupil, making these two the most likely new poets. Much of the book is focused on several races: the race by Maati and Eiah and Vanjit to “bind” a new Andat, the race by Otah and others to find them and stop them before they do so, and the race between the past and the future as the two countries must decide what their relationship to each other will be.
There is much less focus on the Andat in this novel, but the discussion of their creation and binding — the attempt to make concrete an abstract idea — is fascinating and enjoyably stimulating. The setting also plays a smaller role. The gesture/pose grammar of the Khaiem is more fully realized here since we see it employed between Khaiem and Galts, so its subtleties are more played up.
The strengths of The Price of Spring are the same as with the series as a whole: characterization, an original “eastern-style” setting, a unique magic system, tight writing, strong prose, and a good ending. These books are character-driven — you’ll find no sweeping battle scenes, no storming the gates, no brawling or swordplay or fireballs a’bursting. The action involves mostly travel, well-done dialogue, and brief acts that have deep and far-ranging effects. The characters are complex and multi-faceted and, as in real life, we can see their actions in both favorable and unfavorable lights. In other words, nobody does anything here because they’re simply “evil” or they’re the “dark lord” — their motivations are mundane and believable: grief, jealousy, love, protectiveness, etc. Even when characters do something we don’t like, we can see why they’d do it. For characters we already know, we get to see other sides of them or we get to see them ripen over the decades the book spans — sometimes growing wiser, sometimes letting the world outgrow their earlier wisdom. This is more true of Otah than anyone, and the rich, layered portrayal of his entire life as it plays out across the four novels is one of Daniel Abraham’s finest achievements. By the time this book ends we feel a true sense of a life, a real life, lived, with all the sorrows and grievous errors and magnificent triumphs any real life contains.
The plot of The Price of Spring is compelling and tense through much of the novel. I think, though, that my favorite aspect of the plot is how Abraham has us, as fans of fantasy and all that usually involves (magic, grand actions, noble justice, etc) rooting for the end of fantasy — the end of the Andats and the lack of justice. If the “good guys” win, there will be no magic in this world — only the continued technological progress of Galt as represented by their steamwagons. It’s a somewhat depressing thought for those of us enticed by the promise of difference and magic in these worlds. And Abraham shows us the bittersweet aspect of this — the necessity to move on, the built-in stagnation inherent in the Andat system set side by side with the sorrow of a world gone by, a world that wasn’t great but had its strengths, its pleasures, its better aspects that will be lost along with its worse elements. Much of this comes through the interior thought process of Otah, whom we’ve seen age from a young man to a nostalgic grieving old man burdened by responsibility.
The Price of Spring is relatively concise. There wasn’t any area of sustained lag, no major pacing problems. The writing is strong throughout and the bittersweet ending (really two endings since there’s an epilog) finishes both the book and the series strongly and logically and honestly, with a truly moving close.
The Price of Spring is an excellent closure to one of the best fantasy epics of recent years. I commend Daniel Abraham for actually finishing a quartet in four books and look forward to his next project. Highly recommended.
~Bill Capossere (2009)
My tastes usually align closely with Bill’s and in this case they align 100%. I can’t add much to Bill’s review except to emphasize that I loved Daniel Abraham’s epic scope throughout this series and the way he showed us two men (Otah and Maati) who, because of an accumulation of small events, unwittingly end up playing roles that will remake their world, for better in some ways and for worse in others. This is a powerful story about love, loss, anger, jealousy, forgiveness, power, and family. It’s thought-provoking and encompasses the whole range of human feelings. By the end I was bawling my eyes out.
Thank you to Tantor Audio for finally producing THE LONG PRICE QUARTET! I enjoyed Neil Shah’s narration and highly recommend this series to all fantasy fans.
~Kat Hooper (2015)