Book Four of The Long Price Quartet
Tor Books, July 2009
Hardcover 352 Pages
Available as the second half of the Tor omnibus The Price of War (publishing in November 2012)
Review copy purchased
After war, another decade plus, and three ‘seasons,’ Daniel Abraham brings his Long Price Quartet to a close with The Price of Spring, a title that hints at new possibilities. Autumn and Spring are often parallel seasons, trees and other plant life begin to wither; trees go leafless and grass ceases to grow in autumn while in spring those vegetative life forms returns anew. So do the characters and the world in The Price of Spring. For despite the novel taking place a decade and a half after The Autumn War now-Emperor Otah Machi is still trying to help his nation recover from the toll war has taken on the land.
Even though the first three volumes were intimate and personal in that Abraham’s dealings with characters focused on a relative few characters compared to his genre contemporaries, the stakes increased with each book. The personal aspect; however, is even more strong in The Price of Spring as the feel of the novel comes through Otah and Maati, once friends and allies who have become ideological enemies and are no longer in the same land. As a result of the events which brought the titular war to a close in the previous volume, Maati is living in exile; he’s become a tragic figure of the series.
The two men are working towards the same ultimate goal of bringing balance and order back into their world, but the two men try to reach the endpoint via different avenues. Maati wishes to bring the andat – magically wrought beings who epitomize a thought brought to form, while Otah wishes to leave them out of the world permanently. Maati is not the only character who wishes to bring the andat back; he’s gathered about him several young poets-in-training who look upon him with admiration and care. One of these individuals happens to be Otah’s daughter, a fact Otah fails to realize until late in the novel.
In many ways The Price of Spring is an elegiac novel; there’s a great melancholic weight to the novel and the feelings espoused by the characters. As I indicated, Maati is a tragic figure and the regret he oozes is, at times, a painfully uncomfortable thing. Perhaps because the feeling hit home a bit with me in terms of recent life events, but this also returns to the main theme as I’ve seen it in these four books – consequences. Every action from the opening of the first book to the conclusion of The Long Price either pays forward to the consequences of the character’s actions or is a consequence of earlier actions.
As with all three previous volumes, Abraham’s prose is rich and evocative, I particularly think Abraham has a great instinct for getting inside character’s heads. Learning more about the protégé poets of Maati’s was somewhat recursive in that it paralleled some of the things Maat was feeling and experiencing, though his experience tempered much of their enthusiasm. Of course, not all of these young poets found it easy to go along with his informed advice.
The gender politics/roles established in this world come into further question in The Price of Spring as the poets studying under Maati are women – previously only men were permitted to be poets. Some interesting consequences of female poets are played out, which provided for some of the more impactful moments of not just The Price of Spring but the series as a whole. The dynamic between all these young women ran the gamut from trust and sympathy to caustic jealousy and anger. In short, it felt as genuine and real as anything else Abraham portrayed in the novel.
My only complaint about this last volume is that for all the slow build and reserved pacing, the conclusion seems to be contrarily rushed. It was an imbalance compared to what came before. That having been said, the end result is satisfactory and balances much of the dark cloud hanging over the majority of the novel. It can be said all four novels are something of a tragic tale; tragedy that could be seen as the price for a redemptive ending.
With any concluding volume, the quality of the series rests on the execution of the finale. The Long Price Quartet is an ambitious saga, one that shows a young writer willing to take smart, calculated risks in telling a story he wanted to tell. I indicated in my review of A Shadow in Summer these four books didn’t get the widespread recognition they deserved (this final volume never received a mass-market publication, for example). As time has helped these novels grow in the modern genre canon, it turns out the story Daniel Abraham wanted to tell in The Long Price Quartet is something readers are wanting to read. Though firmly entrenched in the fantasy genre, Abraham’s story didn’t quite take the ball and run with expectations. Rather, he shunned expectations told a rich and rewarding story despite that.
Since then, Daniel Abraham has risen partially because of his relationship/association with George R.R. Martin, but more so because he’s continued to tell deep and entertaining stories. There’s been something of a cultish movement in the fantasy reading circles of which I’m a part, people have been talking about these books at great length and the majority of what they are saying is how original and terrific these books are. The folks at Tor have taken notice after Mr. Abraham published a couple of books for Orbit books and have wisely decided to issue the four books in two omnibus volumes – Shadow and Betrayal volume 1 and The Price of War volume 2.
Readers who haven’t sampled Mr. Abraham’s writing should do themselves a favor and remedy that oversight. The Long Price Quartet is a slow burn of a series, not one to be rushed, but is one that is savored for the deliberate pace and carefully built story.
Highly Recommended (both the book and the series)
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford