Thursday, September 22, 2011
Review of The Dragon's Path
The world of the The Dragon's Path is a world in transition. The old ways of honor won on a battlefield and lifelong service to a liege lord are being swept aside. Kings and nobles play the game of thrones, but ancient pagan religions and the emerging wealthy class are the new players changing the nature of the game. Banks are rising in the background, the hidden movers behind the world's politics. A forgotten ancient religion with dark powers and an even darker will makes a bid to sieze control.
In this setting we encounter 4 characters who are caught up, sometimes unknowingly, in the vangard of change sweeping through their world. Geder: the bookish son of a minor nobleman. Marcus Wester: a duty plagued captain with a tragic past. Dawson: a nobleman dimly aware of the true forces reshaping his world. And finally Cithrin: a young woman raised as the ward of a counting house, with a razor sharp mind for money and financing.
What strikes a reader of The Dragon's Path is the skill at the portrayal of the 4 major characters. The author shows us 4 very different individuals in detal, and with a depth of insight rarely encountered in epic fantasy. Too often in a modern fantasy we read of type cast characters: the barbarian, the ranger, the scholar, etc. Or we read of characters deliberately drawn against type: instead of a heroic barbarian we get a lethal teenage girl, or instead of a bastard for a nobleman we get a bitch with imperial ambitions. All of which can at times feel fresh and a welcome change. In the Dragon's Path though the characters are portrayed from inside their own consciousnesses, and from outside by other characters and form a rounded picture of what individuals in this setting and faced with these changes would be like.
This is a bit of a stretch but as I read The Dragon's Path I couldn't help but feel like Balzac wrote a fantasy novel. A fantasy novel complete with wizards, sword fights, and epic battles, but which also shows how money permeates even that world. He shows characters who scheme to get money, characters who see money as a means of control, and who pursue money and financial gain regardless of the human cost. He also portrays a humane aspect to money, to people who use it to help those a feudal system care little or nothing for. What Balzac did in many novels in The Human Comedy was to show his fellow Frenchmen the way money changed the old order and old value systems, is very much what Abraham is doing here. He cites in interviews one of his favorite books is Medici Money, by Tim Parks and here he uses that and his self professed fascination to show what happens in a world of honor and glory when money enters the picture.
And the result is fascinating. And truly different without deliberately writing against or with cliché's.
The fantasy elements in the book are done with skill and restraint rare in the genre. There are wonderfully descriptive details that hint at an older mythic world. For example: the Dragon's Path itself, a highway/road made from Jade. The characters know little about its construction, just hints and legends. There are also multiple races but the reader quickly gleans that these races have all existed together for some time, because when a character encounters another member of another race there is apprehension, wariness, but not really surprise at their existence.
The Dragon's Path is subtitled Book 1 in The Dagger and The Coin(itself, a wonderful tool for characterization and which provides a main theme for the novel). Whether this indicates the book is going to be part of a trilogy or a multi volume epic the author doesn't say. Either way I look forward to the next installment.