Book One of The Long Price Quartet
Tor Books, 2006
Hardcover 330 Pages
Available as the first half of the Tor omnibus Shadow and Betrayal
Review copy purchased
Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet begins with A Shadow in Summer, which is also Mr. Abraham’s debut novel. It is a smoothly paced novel focusing on poets (sorcerers who bring the essence of a thought or idea into life called an andat) and heads of state, the weaknesses and strengths of people and how the personal, deep felt inequities of a man can have far ranging effects on a nation and its relationship to the world at large. The city-nation in question is Saraykeht and its grip on the cotton of the world through the andat Seedles, the spirit conjured by the official poet Saraykeht Heshai. Every city-nation has a poet and andat as powerful figures in their world and here, Seedless ensures that only Saraykeht has the best cotton in the world.
The main players; however, are two young men who once trained at the poet’s school – Maati and Otah. The two young men took separate paths, Maati staying long enough to become a poet and Otah having left after seeing the cruelties that must be endured and enforced in order to become fully indoctrinated into the system. Little to these two men’s initial knowledge, a plot has been set in motion to break the world of the powerful grip of the andat.
A Shadow in Summer has many elements in common with Abraham’s fantasy contemporaries – imagined world with echoes of our own, archaic governments that hearken to our past, hints of magic and non-human creatures. Where the novel (and series) differs is in how these elements play together in Abraham’s sandbox. The magic is subtle, only one andat is a primary player in A Shadow in Summer, the imagined world feels more like an old-world Asian setting rather than what’s become the template – Renaissance/Middle Ages Europe. Though the ripple effects of events in the novel are global, it is a plot involving not that many characters, or in other worlds, a world shaped not by war but a chosen few in power. Hints of the power of commerce which take more of a role in The Dragon’s Path can be seen here in A Shadow in Summer. The comparison to Guy Gavriel Kay has been made by many people and I’ll add my voice to the crowd, it is difficult to ignore if you’ve read both writers. Another writer to whom I’d compare Abraham, at least with this novel, is Sean Russell – subtle magic, elegant prose, and ripple effects of a few men on a large scale.
With A Shadow in Summer, the idea of slaves, and men beholden to powers greater than themselves are driving forces in the novel. The andat are spirits with one overwhelming power conjured by poets, they provide a dualistic relationship. The andat Seedless cannot survive without the poet, but it seeks to have a will of its own. Seedless, like all andat, is a reflection of the poet who created him, in this case Heshai. Heshai is a man seeking power, though he feels powerless. Seedless is a being that holds power over the world, but often moves behind the shadows, nudging other characters in a direction of Seedless’s choosing until it seems the direction is the idea chosen by the character himself.
One of the more clever elements Abraham injected into the world is the idea of poses, with characters not speaking but rather taking a pose that would convey supplication or a pose that conveyed something even more complex:
Amat took a pose of thanks appropriate for a superior releasing an underling.
Quite frankly, it is a subtle thing to insert something people take for granted every day as an essential element of communication. Body language conveys so much in communication between people, it’s a simple thing. The posing works extremely well to give characters an added layer of individuality and to better show the relationship he or she has with the other character.
The movements throughout the novel are like that, subtle in the small pieces until the results come to light as something far greater than the sum of their parts. What is unfortunate is that this series did not get the attention from the fantasy reading masses it rightly deserved when first published, having attained something of a cult status. With Abraham’s profile growing in recent years – close ties with George R.R. Martin will do that, not to mention his two great novels I mentioned earlier with Orbit US, this series is growing out of that ‘cult’ status into a defining Fantasy work for the early 21st Century. Smartly, Tor books the original U.S. publisher of The Long Price Quartet is ensuring the series will be imprint by issuing two omnibus editions containing the four books.
One thing I’ve come to realize with Daniel Abraham’s fiction is just how elegant it truly is. Though A Shadow in Summer is his first novel, I came to the book a little late. After an abortive attempt at reading the novel shortly after it was first published, I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Dragon’s Path and the novel he co-authored with Ty Franck – Caliban’s War when both of those novels were published in 2011. The elegance of Abraham’s storytelling is in how he takes simple, and in many cases, familiar ideas and distills them into the pureness and combines those elements to a whole that is fresh and engaging.
Currently, A Shadow in Summer can be found as the first half of Shadow and Betrayal. As I write this review, I’ve already finished the second novel A Betrayal in Winter…as good as book one is, Mr. Abraham improves, but more on that in my review of A Betrayal in Winter. Suffice it to say, A Shadow in Summer is not to be missed, which easy to say in hindsight now that the series is complete and Abraham has become a relatively large name in the field.
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford