Published : Orbit, 2011
Series : Book 1 of The Dagger and the Coin
The Book :
“All paths lead to war...
Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.
Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.
Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.
Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path--the path to war.” -WWEnd.com
This is my final long-delayed review! Daniel Abraham is an author whose work I have always enjoyed. I liked his short fiction in Asimov's when I was a teenager, and then the Long Price Quartet, and more recently for his work as part of James S.A. Corey on The Expanse (I have already bought the 2nd and 3rd books of this series, and will be reading and reviewing them at some point). I actually received this novel along with Leviathan Wakes-- a pleasant surprise, since I had already planned on reading it at some point.
In The Dragon's Path, it seems that Daniel Abraham set out to write an epic fantasy that would fit comfortably in the genre, and I think it does that. There's an ancient vanished civilization, an evil goddess, war, politics, and some small amount of magic. The world is reasonably well-developed, but does not yet seem to break too far out of the standard fantasy mold. However, there are a few things you might not often find in a traditional fantasy novel, such as the focus on medieval banking in a particularly entertaining plot line. The world also has 13 races of humanity, but their existence does not yet seem to be especially relevant to the story. All but one of the viewpoint characters are of the “standard” human race (the final is half-standard-human), and the differences between the races seemed fairly superficial so far.
One thing I've always enjoyed about Daniel Abraham's work is his style of characterization. In my opinion, his characters tend to be complicated, deeply flawed and portrayed with a kind of brutal honesty. The Dragon's Path follows a group of viewpoint characters, some of which are more familiar character types than others. The two viewpoint characters that seemed least interesting to me were the most fantasy-standard: Marcus, an elite ex-soldier with a tragic past, and Dawson, a traditional, conservative aristocrat. Of the others, Geder was easily the least sympathetic to me. In the beginning, he seems like a character that would be easy to sympathize with. He has a nerdy (by his society's standards) hobby, is unattractive, and is constantly bullied-- but it soon becomes clear that many of the complaints people have about him are valid. For instance, he has too high an opinion of his mental abilities, and his lack of life experience leads him to be a poor soldier and a worse leader.
The final viewpoint character is my favorite, a teenage orphan girl named Cithrin, who grew up in a bank. Cithrin has to face a lot of challenges when war comes to her home city, and she rises to them remarkably well for a woman of her age and experience. I was often impressed with her nerve and cleverness, and cringed with secondhand embarrassment when she made poor decisions or believable mistakes. I hope that Cithrin's adventures in commerce play a large role in the future of the series.
Though I liked the various characters to differing degrees, I appreciate their complexity and imperfections. I enjoy when characters are capable of misjudging situations or failing in ways that have serious personal repercussions. In addition, Abraham's characters do not often respond gracefully to failure, which makes their situation somehow feel all the more emotionally realistic. In fact, I was much more engaged in the personal stories of these characters than I was in the slowly emerging epic story of the series. From the end, I can kind of guess where the overarching storyline is headed, but so far, I am more interested in the day-to-day lives and interactions of the main characters.
My Rating: 3.5/5
For fans of epic fantasy, I think The Dragon's Path is likely to be a good pick. The world is interesting, and I get the impression that there is yet more to discover about its past and present. The main characters are as complex, flawed, and interesting as I generally expect from Abraham's work. The story follows several viewpoint characters, of which I found the unsympathetic Geder and the impressive young banker Cithrin to be the most memorable. In fact, at this point in the series, I am more interested in seeing what's next for Cithrin than I am in the ominous larger events of the world!