Review: Shadow and Betrayal
I know there are those that will disagree with me, but I believe that there are times when “the numbers” just flat-out lie. Everything in the publishing industry, as has been frequently stated, comes down to the numbers. Writing and selling books is a business, and if the author doesn’t make his/her publisher enough money, then the numbers will tell them that the best idea is to drop the author and move on. Sometimes though, as I said, the numbers will lie. Sometimes, sometimes, the best thing to do is to put the numbers away and just go with your instincts.
SHADOW AND BETRAYAL (Amazon) is an omnibus of the first two books of the Long Price Quartet, A SHADOW IN SUMMER (Amazon) and A BETRAYAL IN WINTER Amazon) originally published by Tor in 2006 and 2007, and is the beginning half of my favorite fantasy series ever, bar none. Yes, there are other series I’ve read wherein I’ve enjoyed individual books more, but for a series as a whole, this one absolutely takes the ever-present cake (which is not a lie, in this case).
Of all the mighty cities of the Khaiem, Saraykeht is the heart and lifeblood of all its wealth. It is through this grand city that the mighty cotton trade flows, empowered by the all-important poet Heshai, who is both master and slave to the mighty andat, Seedless. The andat, singular ideas given human volition and form, are the power of the East. They provide not only economic strength–in the case of Seedless by removing the seed, or the-part-that-continues, from cotton or unwanted children from their mother’s wombs–but political clout (read: intimidation) as well. Thus, there are those from outside the Empire of the Khaiem that would love to see that power fail.
The story mainly follows three characters. Itani is a young man that had once studied to become a Poet of the andat, but left after finding out more about their methods, and has become a dock worker in the famed city of Saraykeht. Maati, another poet-hopeful and once friend of Itani, has been assigned to assist, and some day take the place of, the poet Heshai. Also involved, is Amat, a woman of some repute, that must run from what she knows of trade to survive in the halls of a brothel and save the life of a young foreign girl.
The first thing that really pulled me into these books was the completely different setting, the engaging, believable characters, and the fluid prose. Instead of western medieval, the setting is decidedly eastern, with very formal ways of communication, including a set of physical poses and cants. This formality within the story gave a sense of importance to the relationships between the various characters that really intrigued me, and was an easy way of relaying more information in a fast, succinct way. The development of the world in the small circle that surrounds the main characters was very well done. In this, Abraham gives readers the knowledge they need about the wide-world without including gratuitous info-dumps and thus makes is very accessible and real. I’m also one that loves clear prose, and this stuff is crystal, people.
Another part of this story that I really loved was the way the magic was integral to the world. This isn’t just another world of “outcast magic users”. In the world of the Khaiem, life itself revolves around and is driven by the “magic” of the poets and their captive andat. It is this simple magical construct that allows the relational stories that arise between the Khaiem and their enemies, between Itani and Maati and their common lover, and between Heshai and Seedless, to be so complex without confusing the issues surrounding them. The story is at once personal and epic at the same time. It is a story of a nation and how the choice of a single individual can drive that nation into the ground or on to glory.
I remember the first time that I read A SHADOW IN SUMMER. I read it twice, actually. My opinion was that it was a solid book with a great core of world-building, characters, and story. What it wasn’t was a rip-roaring adventure of inventive mayhem. If that’s what you’re looking for, might I suggest the Burton and Swineburne books of Mark Hodder (EBR Review), or the Ketty Jay books of Chris Wooding (EBR Review). Instead, these books were more focused upon the individual, the forces pushing and pulling them toward decisions they make, how those choices weigh upon their souls, and the impact those decisions have over their lifetime. This is an intelligent story, and one that I loved. It’s epic and yet each book is only 350-400 pages in length. Yeah. I know. Unheard of, right?
One minor problem for me included the fact that these first two books were fairly similar to each other in the sense of their structure and goal. The real step-up comes in the third and fourth books though, and so from this side of things I can say that this problem is indeed a very minor one.
I do find it interesting, on this side of things, that Tor has decided to publish this series again. The first time around, while they had Mr. Abraham under contract to write the series in the first place, they decided not only to not publish a paperback version of the fourth and final novel in the series, THE PRICE OF SPRING (Amazon), but to let him find another publisher as well. My guess is that it probably had something to do with “the numbers”. But were the numbers lying? In some ways, the publication of these two omnibuses (the first here, and the second soon to follow) is validation that Mr. Abraham did do something right when he wrote these books. Because, for some reason, the numbers are now saying that he’s a good bet. Me, I’ve always thought he was a good bet–right from the first time I finished A Shadow in Summer–and I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve for us next.
This series is some absolutely great reading for all lovers of fantasy that didn’t catch it the first time around. Don’t miss it this time. Do yourself a favor and pick up something from Mr. Abraham. If you’re tastes are anything like ours, you won’t be sorry you did.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Infrequent, but strong at times
- Violence: A few of the scenes get pretty violent and killing is handled very personally
- Sex: A couple ends of scenes and memories, spoken of but not in detail
If there was ever a time to get into the awesomeness that is Daniel Abraham, is is now. Buy this book. Like now.