Shadow and Betrayal by Daniel Abraham
Review by Jasper de Joode
In a remote mountain academy, the politically expendable younger sons of the Great Houses study for an extraordinary task. Most will fail, some will die, but the reward for the dedicated few is great: mastery of the andat, and the rank of Poet. Thanks to these men – part sorcerers, part scholars – the great city-states of the Khaiem enjoy wealth and power beyond measure, and the greatest of them all is Saraykeht: glittering jewel of the Summer Cities. There are those in the world, however, who envy such wealth. There are great riches to be had in the Summer and Winter Cities, and only the threat of the andat unleashed holds the enemies of the Khaiem in check. Conflict is brewing in the world. Alliances will be broken and friends betrayed. The lowly will be raised up, the mighty will fall and innocents will be slaughtered. And two men, bound to each other by an act of kindness and an act of brutality, may be all that stands between the civilised world and war. War and something worse…
The Long Price Quartet is the debut work of Daniel Abraham. The series consists of four books which have been recently released in two omnibus editions: Shadow and Betrayal and Seasons of War.
Shadow and Betrayal contains lots of new ideas and is, for me, out-of-the-box fantasy. This makes it hard to find a point on where to start… But here goes.
Book one, Shadow in Summer is not your stereotypical fantasy novel. Judging by the cover alone you might expect a surplus of sword-fighting and battles but this in minimal and what is most noteworthy is how Abraham sets his world apart from others with his ideas and great storytelling.
I haven’t read many fantasy books which use specific current existing themes in their world building. The world in which The Long Price Quartet plays out is heavily influenced by oriental themes and this is noticeable from the first few paragraphs in the prologue. Something else which I also haven’t encountered often is Abraham’s use of hand gestures in his dialogue. Characters use their hands to emphasize what they are staying but I am afraid that I simply didn’t get it. The hand gestures just did not make that much sense to me – I can understand why Abrahams uses them, in an attempt to enliven the dialogue, but it just didn’t work for me.
Another part I liked about A Shadow in Summer is the small, hardly noticeable fantasy thread. The book does have magic but that’s not where the emphasis lies, neither is it in fighting but it is instead in politics (somewhat comparable to Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana) where a whole economy is threatened. something that may lead to war. Some books focus more on character interactions and world building and A Shadow in Summer is one of them. This approach may not be for everyone since it is less focused on action but the way in which Abraham writes is wonderful and his use of a divergent set of characters really helps in creating a well-rounded story.
Now for the magic part. Poets. Abraham had put a lot of thought into this and the idea is simple yet brilliant. The poets are able to put a concept in to words, like a poem, and transform this into a magic creature called an “andat”. These andats are the magic users, not the poets themselves who merely direct their actions.
There are some small details that I think could have made A Shadow in Summer even better. This is, of course, Abraham’s debut novel and although his diverse cast of characters all had their own personalities they were all more or less on a shallow level. The little extra depth given for their actions and motives would have added much to the story overall.
All-in-all though A Shadow in Summer is a very well written debut novel in which Abraham lays a solid foundation for the books to come.
Book 2, A Betrayal in Winter, really improves upon the foundations laid down in A Shadow in Summer. Once again the emphasis is not on fighting, battles etcetera but on plotting, scheming, the human interactions and politics. The second book’s storyline was better constructed than the first novel but does admittedly benefit from the groundwork done in A Shadow in Summer.
A Betrayal in Winter picks up roughly half a decade after A Shadow in Summer, and likewise plays out within not the Summer Cities but the Winter Cities. The main protagonist, Otah, has a larger role in A Betrayal in Winter than he did in A Shadow in Summer and I really like Otah character and how he was constructed. Often you see either scullions that grow up to be kings or princes that maintain their high rank but what makes Otah different is that he has renounced his bonds to his father the Khai (Kingly figure) and has become a poet. His character really changes throughout the second book, mainly due to the certain events, and this character development is always a big plus for me.
The storyline was great and I am forced to withdraw my comment regarding the hand gestures. After getting fully into the story I found that the poses do actually give more dimension, and somehow my subconscious mind now forms the mental images that, I think, Abraham intended with this trick – quite funny and clever indeed.
To summarise, Shadow and Betrayal is strong story about an empire struggling to maintain control and power. Abraham’s writing is excellent all I can say is that I wished I had picked it up sooner.
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