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Book Review: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

Genre: Epic/High Fantasy
Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: April 7, 2011
ISBN-10: 0316080683
ISBN-13: 978-0316080682
Author Website: Daniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham’s new novel cements his status as the literary successor to George R. R. Martin.

The Dragon’s Path is the first book of The Dagger and the Coin – a series that blends high court fantasy with the world of medieval banking. Two story arcs dominate the narrative. First is Cithrin Bel Sarcour, a ward of the Medean Bank who has been groomed since her initial fostering to be a whiz at accounting and making a lucrative business transaction. However, Vanai, the free city where she lives, is doomed to fall soon to the armies of Kingdom of Antea, so Cithrin must escape in disguise with the bank’s money and return it to the main branch in the North even as she starts to flower into an independent mind. Her future protector, Captain Marcus Wester, is a former general turned bodyguard tasked to protect what he thinks is an innocuous caravan of little interest to anyone. But lacking a full complement of mercenaries has put Wester in a bit of a bind. Luckily, he has a plan. He does not yet know that he is protected far more than a caravan of wool and tin when Cithrin, in disguise, joins the caravan.

Meanwhile, Geder Palliakio, a Viscount in the armies of Antea and academic homebody, is party to the armies marching on Vanai. Little does he know it, but Geder is destined for greatness unsought, and the narrative arc which follows him foreshadows the birth of a despot. Geder’s destiny and archeological inquiries lead him to find something long forgotten which will tip the balance of power in Antea and throughout the former Dragon Empire. Dawson Kalliam, friend of the King of Antea, and old school noble provides insight into the machinations of the court, and its reactions to Geder.

In chapter construction, Abraham has copied colleague George R. R. Martin. Each chapter is simply titled with the character name that provides the first person perspective of that chapter, alternating between Cithrin, Marcus, Geder and Dawson. The reader is given a perspective both minuscule and of the world at large. Through Geder and Dawson, the big picture of the novel unfolds, and the grand sweeping events that will shape the future of the former Dragon Empire begin to take root. Cithrin and Marcus, on the other hand, are the personal touch of the novel. Their story of small successes lightens the ominous mood of Geder and Dawson’s storyline.

That is not to say that either storyline has no ups nor downs, but rather that one Abraham has deftly interwoven the stories to such a degree that when one story arc finds failure or is beset by problems, the other one finds success and vice versa. It keeps the plotline moving quickly on a series of cliffhangers that are quickly resolved a few chapters later and ensures a fast-pace for a the lengthy novel filled mostly with court maneuverings and the craft of banking (both which have their own kind of suspense, one Abraham makes evident, but which won’t appeal to everyone).

The Dragon’s Path is a character-driven story. Cithrin is the young lass that grows through trial and tribulation, Wester the worldly fighter with a streak of noble heroism, Geder the geeky loner who one-ups all his haters through a series of lucky breaks and esoteric interests, and Dawson the conniving noble who is a compelling anti-hero. Abraham has just begun to develop these characters, and when The Dragon’s Path ends, they are on the cusp of making great personal changes or facing great challenges, but through Abraham’s deft character development, it is all logical and reasonable as well as fascinating to read. Especially interesting is Abraham’s method of growing Cithrin from wide-eyed lass to worldly-wise woman. No, Abraham does not use rape as so many other authors do, and what he does use will resonate both with readers who have experienced it or had family members who suffer from it. It’s a clever way to age the character, give her experience, without resorting to tried and true methods that have become pedestrian.

The world and its history are reminiscent of David Eddings. Abraham has a whole world history created for his story and uses it as part of the narrative rather than a tack-on. Something about the long dead Dragon Empire is going to have a major effect on this series; it is just unknown just what though. There are still lots of questions to be answered at the novel’s final cliffhanger, and I am already desperate to read what come next.

Abraham’s fantasy “races” are all humans, acknowledged as such, that were at one time in the distant past manipulated by the long dead or disappeared Dragons for certain tasks. You have standard humans like the Firstbloods, the orc-like Yemmu, the long-eared Tralgu, the ghostly Cinnae (of which Cithrin is a partial member), the scaled Timzinae and many others (including a rarely seen aquatic race). Some readers might say that Abraham is merely transposing standard epic fantasy races into his story, but it doesn’t read that way, and the races are all mixed together, living in as much harmony as such selfish beasts as humans ever can. There is no (or at least none that affects the plot) race hatred, though of course nothing is equal and certain races have worse socioeconomic status than others. Racial differences only play a very small part on the story so far, providing diversity of appearance in the characters without having to resort to creating separate species or using the same old orc/elf/goblin/human race divisions of epic fantasy.

The Dragon’s Path is an excellent book for those waiting on Martin to finish the next A Song of Ice and Fire novel. The two authors share a great deal of similarity in construction, content, scope, and style (Abraham pulls no punches in sexuality or swearing in the novel, though less so than Martin) and attempts to break free of the standard mold of epic fantasy while still remaining true to its roots. I was enraptured with the novel and can’t wait for the next. Meanwhile, I plan to find a copy of The Long Price Quartet, because if The Dragon’s Path is any indication, Daniel Abraham truly is the next George R. R. Martin.

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