Wednesday, June 02, 2010

JD's Take: The Long Price Quartet (Daniel Abraham)

This is the first time in years that I've read more than one book in a series back-to-back. In this case, I read the three entries in Abraham's quartet in a 2.5 week period. What made me perform this strange and uncharacteristic act? Was I trapped without a giant stack to tempt me after each one? Was I so thoroughly enjoying them that I couldn't stop? Was Lisa nagging me to finally read them and get them off of our stack once and for all? Yes, yes, and yes.

I read the first book, A Shadow in Summer, years ago when it first came out. I enjoyed it quite a bit at the time for it's interesting and well developed world and interesting and well developed characters. This despite the fact that I really hate the "sudden but inevitable betrayal" trope, where an author foreshadows the tragedy so broadly that you spend the whole novel cringing whenever anyone is happy. So. Years pass. Lisa write not one, but two reviews of this series for some reason, both of them glowing. Eventually, we go on a weekend trip and she slips the second and third volume into my luggage, and I get started.

I really enjoyed the series as a whole. For starters, each of the books actually feels like a separate tale that could stand on its own (a little less so with book 4, such is the nature of conclusions). This is a rare and wonderful thing. Bravo Mr. Abraham! The scope of the narrative is narrow and deep, meaning that we follow a small cast of characters across an entire lifetime of experience. This allows for a level of character development that you very, very rarely see. In fact, the wholse series could be viewed as an elaborately couched character study. An in-depth exploration of friendhip and rivalry and good intentions and the flaws that make us human.

The series could also be seen as a vast fantasy epic in which immensely powerful magics are used to shatter the world. Twice. Of course, you have to squint a little bit to see it that way. For starters, a fantasy epic basically requires a Villain, and there just isn't one. There are people who do terrible, terrible things, but even while I watched in horror I had a hard time criticizing them. It's said that everyone is the hero of their own story. Abraham's gift is in telling us those stories so convincingly that we believe them all. Every single one is wrong, of course, and conflicting. But while a given character is on the screen, we believe it. We see how they do what they do, and why. We see how they couldn't act in any other way. We believe that a good man is humble, even while acting with sweeping power and intense arrogance. We see how murdering thousands is the safest, most moral choice. We understand that a good man is a terrible, jealous, blind fool.

Another reason I'd never call this an epic is that the camera stays too close to the characters to show the breadth of destruction that is occurring in the story. Even while whole nations fall, we only see the very personal aspects of the change. It's like watching a movie about some great and tragic battle, but the camera never strays from tight closeups of one soldier's face, or a victim's, or a general's.

So yeah. Good story, good world, great characters. Not all perfect, of course. The final book fell short of many of the best things about this series. It didn't really stand on its own, it had a real villain (without a particularly compelling personal story), and it dragged pretty badly until halfway through. On the other hand, it did wonderful things with many of the characters, and the ending was one of the best wrap-ups to a long series that I've read in a very, very long time.

Overall, I'd say that this series is excellent. Well written, entertaining, different, deep, character driven and fun. Not perfect but awfully, awfully good.


Elfy said...

Just wanted to tell you that I only discovered this blog a day or so ago and really enjoy it. Thanks. I also have the Abraham books on my 'to buy at some future point' list, so it's good to see another positive review of them.

LisaBit said...

Glad you're enjoying it, Elfy! Definitely pick the Long Price Quartet up if you have a chance - some of my favorite books of this year, definitely.