A compelling prologue, in which an acolyte of the spider goddess, who conveys the infallible ability to tell if people believe what they're saying, desperately flees the cult, and a solidly intriguing first third carried me through the increasingly disappointing rest of this epic fantasy.

Abraham sets up a cool world, with many semi-human races, a promising magic system, a fun theatrical troupe, and a banker heroine. He then proceeds to sideline the non-human races, the lie-detecting magic, the theatre, and, finally, even the banking in favor of unlikable characters and cliched plotlines: a complete monster of a sociopathic nerd, a boring lord, and a warrior obsessed with his refrigerated wife and daughter. The acolyte, who was by far my favorite character, does show up again, but in a supporting role. If he had been the lead, I would have enjoyed the book way more.

Abraham's previous series had some excellent, original worldbuilding, and while it ended up being somewhat gender-essentialist and playing into tired gender-role tropes, he also portrayed convincing, non-stereotyped individual female characters. This book was a huge step back.

Early on, the banker girl, Cithrin, asks a male soldier about learning a martial art that will compensate for being little and comparatively weak. He informs her that no martial art can ever be useful for weak, helpless women, and that stronger men will always prevail, so there's no point in even trying to train. A woman's true weapon is sex, he says.

Silly me, I expected that exchange was there in order to be subverted later, either by Cithrin learning distance weapons or magic or fantasy!Wing Chun or (my favorite option) the mad power of banking. Nope! She learns that a woman's true weapon is... sex.

Unless someone informs me that the sequel is less sexist AND there's less page time spent on the Hitler-like Geder and boring Marcus and Dawson, I'll pass.

I expect this, the more sexist, less original, faux-European series to be much more heavily promoted and successful than his first, less sexist, more original, faux-Asian series.

The Dragon's Path (The Dagger and the Coin)
The Long Price, by Daniel Abraham, is an impressively ambitious fantasy quatrology with one of the most unusual and striking magic systems I’ve encountered so far.

In a thoroughly imagined empire unlike any real one from our history, but influenced as much by Asia as by Europe, men called poets can completely describe an idea, such as “Stone Made Soft,” in order to force it into human shape. That embodied concept, called an andat, has the power of its idea (ie, to make stone soft) and is the slave of the poet. A poet who tries and fails to bind an andat dies in a hideous, painful manner tied into the nature of the andat being summoned. The andats, without exception, long to return to their natural, non-conscious and non-embodied state, and are locked into an eternal battle of wills with the poets who enslaved them.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they are shaped by the poet’s conception of the idea and by the poet’s subconscious, so being a poet means being eternally tied to a living expression of the dark side of your own psyche. And if that wasn’t bad enough, even the most innocuous-seeming of the andats has enough power, applied imaginatively and widely enough, to kill everyone in the world. Just imagine what would happen if all the stone in the world became soft as vapor, and then hard again…

This has to be one of the nastiest magic systems out there, right up with anything requiring human sacrifice and the sadistic magic school in Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger. I was completely fascinated by it, and kept reading all the parts of the story that didn’t have to do with the andats and the poets in the hope that eventually, the andats and the poets would return.

Each novel tells a somewhat self-contained story, but each builds on the next and some characters continue through all of them. They all involve power plays against, for, and within the Empire; the use and misuse and effects of absolute power are major themes.

The first involves a complicated plot in which a number of parties, many of them unaware of or double-crossing each other, try to affect the fate of a single but economically significant city via the poet who controls its andat. The andat, Seedless, is used to pull seeds from cotton – absolute power harnessed to do a task we’d delegate to a machine. (Other countries are going in the direction of technology rather than andats, something which plays a huge role in subsequent books.) But the concept of “seedless” is much more extensive than that. It can provide a quick, painless abortion to a woman wealthy enough to pay for one… or in the magic equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction, do the same to every woman in an enemy nation.

I won’t go into details about the plots of the subsequent books, as it would get spoilery, except to say that the motifs of fertility and sterility that appear in the first book are not limited to that one. I couldn’t extract a single grand statement about men and women and sexism and reproduction and parenthood and marriage and how those are all tied into economics, politics, and war, but those are all extremely important thematic and plot elements. I can’t say that I agree with all the ways these are expressed in the books, but I appreciate that a lot of thought went into matters that are often not considered or explored at all.

My main caveat, and it’s a testament to the craft of the series as a whole that it didn’t ruin the story for me, is that I didn’t like and wasn’t especially interested in either of the protagonists, a failed poet and a runaway prince who fall out over the woman they both love. Speaking of which, there’s a lot of men falling out over women, men mooning over the same woman, etc, and I found all that quite tiresome. I was far more interested in the andats, the successful poets, the opposing general, and the women who show up in the fourth book, about whom it would be spoilery to say more.

I think Abraham was trying to make a point about the limitations set on women in a sexist society, but his female characters, especially in the last book, were often so much more interesting than his men that it became quite frustrating how much of the story the men were taking up. Again, I get the probable reason for this, but it’s not actually necessary to have male protagonists in order to demonstrate that women are oppressed.

That being said, the books are gripping and well-crafted, and I read all four in as many days. Recommended.

A Shadow in Summer (The Long Price Quartet)

A Betrayal in Winter (The Long Price Quartet)

An Autumn War (The Long Price Quartet)

The Price of Spring (The Long Price Quartet)

Feel free to spoil all four books in comments.
The Long Price, by Daniel Abraham, is an impressively ambitious fantasy quatrology with one of the most unusual and striking magic systems I’ve encountered so far.

In a thoroughly imagined empire unlike any real one from our history, but influenced as much by Asia as by Europe, men called poets can completely describe an idea, such as “Stone Made Soft,” in order to force it into human shape. That embodied concept, called an andat, has the power of its idea (ie, to make stone soft) and is the slave of the poet. A poet who tries and fails to bind an andat dies in a hideous, painful manner tied into the nature of the andat being summoned. The andats, without exception, long to return to their natural, non-conscious and non-embodied state, and are locked into an eternal battle of wills with the poets who enslaved them.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they are shaped by the poet’s conception of the idea and by the poet’s subconscious, so being a poet means being eternally tied to a living expression of the dark side of your own psyche. And if that wasn’t bad enough, even the most innocuous-seeming of the andats has enough power, applied imaginatively and widely enough, to kill everyone in the world. Just imagine what would happen if all the stone in the world became soft as vapor, and then hard again…

This has to be one of the nastiest magic systems out there, right up with anything requiring human sacrifice and the sadistic magic school in Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger. I was completely fascinated by it, and kept reading all the parts of the story that didn’t have to do with the andats and the poets in the hope that eventually, the andats and the poets would return.

Each novel tells a somewhat self-contained story, but each builds on the next and some characters continue through all of them. They all involve power plays against, for, and within the Empire; the use and misuse and effects of absolute power are major themes.

The first involves a complicated plot in which a number of parties, many of them unaware of or double-crossing each other, try to affect the fate of a single but economically significant city via the poet who controls its andat. The andat, Seedless, is used to pull seeds from cotton – absolute power harnessed to do a task we’d delegate to a machine. (Other countries are going in the direction of technology rather than andats, something which plays a huge role in subsequent books.) But the concept of “seedless” is much more extensive than that. It can provide a quick, painless abortion to a woman wealthy enough to pay for one… or in the magic equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction, do the same to every woman in an enemy nation.

I won’t go into details about the plots of the subsequent books, as it would get spoilery, except to say that the motifs of fertility and sterility that appear in the first book are not limited to that one. I couldn’t extract a single grand statement about men and women and sexism and reproduction and parenthood and marriage and how those are all tied into economics, politics, and war, but those are all extremely important thematic and plot elements. I can’t say that I agree with all the ways these are expressed in the books, but I appreciate that a lot of thought went into matters that are often not considered or explored at all.

My main caveat, and it’s a testament to the craft of the series as a whole that it didn’t ruin the story for me, is that I didn’t like and wasn’t especially interested in either of the protagonists, a failed poet and a runaway prince who fall out over the woman they both love. Speaking of which, there’s a lot of men falling out over women, men mooning over the same woman, etc, and I found all that quite tiresome. I was far more interested in the andats, the successful poets, the opposing general, and the women who show up in the fourth book, about whom it would be spoilery to say more.

I think Abraham was trying to make a point about the limitations set on women in a sexist society, but his female characters, especially in the last book, were often so much more interesting than his men that it became quite frustrating how much of the story the men were taking up. Again, I get the probable reason for this, but it’s not actually necessary to have male protagonists in order to demonstrate that women are oppressed.

That being said, the books are gripping and well-crafted, and I read all four in as many days. Recommended.

A Shadow in Summer (The Long Price Quartet)

A Betrayal in Winter (The Long Price Quartet)

An Autumn War (The Long Price Quartet)

The Price of Spring (The Long Price Quartet)

Feel free to spoil all four books in comments.
.

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