Daniel Abraham has written a number of acclaimed works of speculative fiction, most prominently The Long Price quartet as well as contributions to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards universe and many short stories. With The Dragon’s Path, Daniel transitions to a new publisher and launches a brand new Epic Fantasy saga under the title of The Dagger and the Coin. On the surface, Daniel is working in a more ‘traditional’ fantasy setting (emulating medieval Europe, deep history of magic, dragons, etc), than his previous novels and longer works. Though his Long Price quartet was extremely well received from readers and critics, it flew under the radar of the general populace. The Dragon’s Path is sure to bring Daniel much more well-deserved attention.
The novel starts with a prologue, hinting at the return of a very dark magic. The Spider Goddess, to be specific, and how she will consume the world. The POV character in this prologue does not receive a name other than “The Apostate.” The remaining chapters are titled based upon the character on whom Abraham focuses his engaging third person omniscient point of view. If this structure is somewhat familiar (especially to those who’ve read Daniel’s mentor George R.R. Martin) then the meat giving that structure bulk does stand apart. For example, the orphan hero is a very popular character type, especially in fantasy fiction. But how often is this orphan taken in by bankers and taught their trade? Not very often, from the many fantasy novels I’ve personally read. In the character of Cithrin Bel Sarcour, Daniel Abraham has given readers that character and watching her grow over the course of the novel was very enjoyable and plausible. At first shy and downtrodden, Cithrin comes into her own and becomes a very confident, assured character by novel’s end.
Cithrin is charged to oversee a physical transfer of the funds via wagon train of the Medean Bank (the bank who adopted her), before the city of Vanai can be conquered by the looming force of the Anteans. Joining Cithrin as hired muscle is Captain Marcus Wester, something of a living legend due to his many victories in previous wars. Just as Cithrin is more than she seems, Wester is more than just a quiet, grizzled veteran. I find myself at odds with the comparison I’m going to make though the more I consider it the more apt it is. Something of Wester’s past echoes Kratos, the protagonist of the phenomenally popular (and excellent) video game series God of War. Wester keeps his anger in check much more successfully than does Kratos.
The third character on whom the majority of The Dragon’s Path focuses is Geder Palliako a foppish nobleman in the Antean army. Geder at first finds himself the butt of jokes, then a tool for those above him, and eventually a true power player in his own right thanks to his natural curiosity and the soon-to-awaken dark organization he finds in the mountains towards the final third of the novel. Since I’m not giving details, I don’t think this can be considered spoilerish.
Lastly, Abraham gives readers the fourth point-of-view character of Killian Dawson, a Baron who fancies himself a player on a Machiavellian level, moving people around like pawns on a chessboard. While he is not a very likeable character, he was also the character I found the least interesting. That having been said, a character like Dawson is a necessary foil in the story Daniel is writing and Dawson does fit the mold well.
The plot revolves around power struggles for a throne under hints and threats of war , familial political machinations (primarily from Killian Dawson’s POV), the coming of age of two of the three primary protagonists (Cithrin and Geder), and the redemption of the third (Wester). Where Abraham further separates his novel from other Epic Fantasies dealing with war is where he shows how the wars begin, and through the economic maneuverings that often power the undercurrent of war. On the surface it may not seem that such a premise would make for the most compelling reading, but Abraham infused the narrative with that all important addictive quality of “I need to know what happens next.” In fact, my wife noted while I was reading the book that I couldn’t put the book down and was always reading it. She doesn’t make such a remark very often and I read about a book or two a week.
A world rich with history and a variety of races serves as the backdrop for these characters. A world once ruled by dragons, dragons who in the history of this world, dabbled with genetic manipulation for lack of a better term. As a result, this world has 13 branches of humanity. In many ways, I was reminded a bit of the races of Steven Erikson’s Malazan saga for the manner in which the races interact with each other. Daniel provides an essay on these races on his Web site (http://tinyurl.com/dandcraces), though a glossary in the book would have also been helpful for reference. So would a map, but on his blog and in the forums where he can be found (http://asoiaf.westeros.org), Daniel indicated future printings of this book and/or installments of the series would include such ancillary materials.
So, what has Daniel Abraham done? He’s taken a proven formula and turned it slightly askew by focusing on a bank teller, a grumpy middle-aged man, and a fat idiotic fool. In other words, the surface may lead one to think you are looking at simply a steak, but when you slice and bite into it, you realize you are eating a fine cut of filet mignon cooked to near perfection. Along with The Wise Man’s Fear, The Alloy of Law, and of course, A Dance with Dragons, The Dragon’s Path will likely be one of the highlight Epic/Secondary World fantasy novels of the year. Bravo, I can’t wait for the second course, so bring it on Daniel!
In the meantime, I’m going to catch up with his Long Price quartet and his Space Opera release with Ty Franck under the pen name James S.A. Corey entitled Leviathan Wakes.
Highest recommendation for this novel as it will appeal to fans of Epic / High Fantasy as well as those who may find themselves tired of the tropes that have been re-cooked without new flavors for so long. Should anybody need something to tide him or herself over until the fifth installment of A Song of Ice and Fire publishes (or the next episode of Game of Thrones), they would be well served by giving The Dragon’s Path a try. I don’t doubt it will more than fit the bill.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford