Monday, 11 February 2008

‘The Long Price (A Shadow in Summer)’ – Daniel Abraham (Orbit Books)

One of my New Year’s resolutions (regarding what I read) is to tackle some of the larger books I was sent last year but never got round to. One of these is the Orbit edition collecting the first two books of Daniel Abraham’s ‘The Long Price Quartet’, ‘A Shadow in Summer’ and ‘A Betrayal in Winter’. I’ve failed my New Year’s resolution straight away as I’ve finished the first book but will take a little break before starting the second, hopefully the review will help you understand why…
The Summer City of Saraykeht is pre-eminent among the city-states of the Khaiem and this is in no small part due to the Poets and the power they wield through the andat, sorcerous thought given human thought and function. Not everyone can master the andat and, despite the rewards, there are also some that will choose not to. Otah-Kvo is one such man and ‘A Shadow in Summer’ tells the tale of his struggle to find his own life; only to find himself amidst the schemes of foreign powers, vengeful citizens and Saraykeht’s own andat ‘Seedless’. The fate of the city hangs in the balance, maybe the fate of the Khaiem themselves.
The very first thing that struck me about ‘A Shadow in Summer’ was the sheer level of detail and thought that had gone into creating this world. This isn’t a place that simply serves as the backdrop to the story, ‘The World’ (that’s what it’s called, check out the map) is an entity that lives and breathes in its own right. It’s a place that’s so intricately presented that you could almost forget the story and spend a few pages in the tea-shops, at the Poet’s house or walking along the seafront. It also made a welcome change to see evidence of oriental culture, as the underpinning concept of this world, rather the usual ‘Medieval Europe’ tropes. This emphasis on detail can sometimes become ‘over-emphasis’ and it sometimes feels as if the story itself slows down to a crawl (the main reason why I’m taking a break between books), this is also the case when the plot centres around the relationships between principal characters. I’ll freely admit that I found myself really getting bogged down in detail early on and was seriously considering putting the book down for something else. I stuck with it though and am really glad I did. While this may be a book that spends it’s entire time setting things up for future instalments it’s something that also deserves attention in terms of the sheer ‘epic feel’ of the story and the history that underpins it. Characterisation is superb as well and is indicative of Abraham’s ability to move effortlessly between the politics of nations and the relationships of their citizens, putting equal emphasis on each. Whilst Otah-Kvo is the main character the dynamics that really struck me were those between the Poet Heshai and the Andat, two creatures who hate each other but cannot survive alone. When you find out the reason for this I defy you not to feel a little sad for them both.
The book ends on a slightly low-key note but it is clear that the seeds have been sown for momentous things to happen in future books, I’ll be there to see what happens.
‘A Shadow in Summer’ is a difficult book to get into and, at the same time, it demands your absolute attention. If you’re reading it, stick with it and I think you’ll get a lot out of this tale.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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