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Monday, May 21, 2012

The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo)

Order "The King's Blood" HERE
Read an Excerpt HERE
Read FBC's Review of "The Dragon Path"
Click here for The Dagger and The Coin Giveaway

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Daniel Abraham has been nominated for the Hugo,Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and was awarded the International Horror Guild Award. His bibliography includes The Long Price Quartet, Hunter’s Run (w/Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin), the short story collection Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, the Wild Cards: The Hard Call comic book miniseries, and The Black Sun’s Daughter urban fantasy series written as MLN Hanover. His recent ventures include Leviathan Wakes (w/Ty Frank) under the pen name James S. A. Corey, and the comic book adaptation of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire


Geder Palliako's star is rising. He is a hero of Antea, protector to the crown prince, and darling of the court. But storms from his past are gathering, and with them, a war that will change everything. 

Cithrin bel Sarcour founded a powerful bank on stolen wealth, forged papers, and ready blades. Now every move she makes is observed, recorded, and controlled. Unless Cithrin can free herself from her gilded cage, the life she made will be for naught; war may provide just the opportunity she needs. 

An apostate priest sees the hidden hand behind all: a long-buried secret of the dragon empire threatens everything humanity has built. An age of madness and death is on the way, with only a few doomed heroes to stand in its way. 

CLASSIFICATION: Influenced by the likes of Alexandre Dumas, George R. R. Martin, Joss Whedon, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J. Michael Straczynski among others, The Dagger and the Coin is Daniel Abraham’s take on traditional epic fantasy. 

FORMAT/INFO: The King’s Blood is 501 pages long divided over a Introduction, an Entr'acte, and forty-five chapters with each chapter designated by the name of a main character. Also includes a Map, a Dramatis Personae list, an introduction to the taxonomy of races and an excerpt from The Poisoned Sword, the third volume in The Dagger and the Coin. Narration is in the third person via Captain Marcus Wester; Geder Palliako; Cithrin Bel Sarcour; Dawson Kalliam, the Baron of Osterling Fells; Dawson’s wife, Clara Annalie Kalliam; and Master Kit the apostate

The King’s Blood is the second volume in The Dagger and the Coin—a projected five-volume series. May 22, 2011 marks the North American/UK Trade Paperback publication of The King’s Blood via Orbit Books

LIVIU’S ANALYSIS: The King's Blood is secondary world fantasy at its best and in addition it has a writing style quite above the usual "utility English" of the genre; maybe not quite at (the top of) literary fiction levels (see Hari Kunzru's Gods without Men for recent such), but close, while pretty much all the things that I would mark as negatives come from the nature of the genre rather than from the author. 

I would try to avoid spoilers so I will talk only a little about the storyline, just to mention that it is a direct continuation of The Dragon's Path and a lot of things happen by the end of the novel which happens at a good stopping point with no cliffhangers but not much global resolution beyond tbc either - in this sense the first two volumes of the intended 5 book series are truly volume 1/2 of a huge novel. 

The structure is similar with Dragon's Path and features POV chapters from Cithrin, Dawson, Clara, Geder and Marcus with interludes from Master Kit. As mentioned lots of things happen including intrigues, conspiracies, wars, pirates, deaths of named characters, while the world is expanded to some extent and the roles of the thirteen races are made a little bit clearer here, though again mostly regular humans aka "firstbloods" are of importance (and Cithrin of course who is half-blood Cinnae but much closer to her firstblood half by upbringing). There is an appendix written from the POV of a scholar of one the "superior bloods' (of course he would claim that...) and discussing the thirteen races, while many secondary characters - some new, some old and some who may become important later appear and some have really great moments.  

The King's Blood also has an elegant rather than visceral feel and consequently the more emotional moments are still cerebral to a large extent rather than pure emotion and the action flows naturally rather than twisting and turning - here I tend to prefer the more visceral feel and the twists and turns with "what..?" moments, but as that is a pure personal preference, I would not count it against the book especially that it executes so well in these two categories (elegant style, natural story lines). The pages turn by themselves and I literally could not put the book down and read it in one very long sitting, but i expect to revisit the world and probably reread The Dragon Path too soon. 

As for negatives - as mentioned mostly due to genre - the book like most SFF is about politics and the organization of society and like most fantasy it is a retrograde such where "what is your blood" counts more than anything else outside of specific commercial cities - true that say Geder who is minor nobility raises himself with luck and a strong dose of magic, but he is still noble - nobility and blood with the role of women very traditional in the "high society" - again the lower and commercial classes are different but over 60% of the book is about the nobility, a bit smaller world building than expected and occasionally feeling like a sandbox - but ultimately the novel captivated me again and showed that great writing and characters and a reasonably well thought secondary world (with the caveats above) still can keep me interested in traditional fantasy despite my feeling of "exhausting the genre" in the last 4 years. 

MIHIR’S ANALYSIS: Daniel Abraham’s debut series had a lot of readers and critics praising his original premise and that did get fans excited for his next series which was a move back to the favored pseudo-European setting. This series was also going to be an amalgam of some classic literature as well as genre favorites. The first book in the series really gave the readers a nice look into the world created by the author wherein dragons ruled a long time ago and created the thirteen races. The main characters were introduced and enough intrigue was created. 

With the King’s Blood, we are once again swept in to the world of the Dragons. Cithrin has been successful with her moves and in setting up a front for the Medean bank in costal city of Porte Olivia what she didn’t bargain for, are the chains the bank would set on her in the form of a clerk who cross-checks her each and every move. Geder Palliako never thought his star would ever rise so high but as the royal regent he now holds the most powerful court position and enjoys a good comfort level with his ward prince Aster. He however does not know that his ascent has only begun and further events will propel him into the limelight unsuited for him. Dawson and Clara Killiam are further faced with trials as they weave familial and political situations and try to do the right thing. Lastly there’s Master Kit who remembers his past life and decides that the time has come for him to step back in his earlier life and accomplish what he first set out to do. 

Thus begins the second chronicle of the Dagger and the Coin, the author has raised the stakes in this book by further evolving the characters from the roles that they were assigned or deemed to follow. Characterization has always been Daniel Abraham’s forte and he absolutely shines in this book as well. Geder, Cithrin, Dawson, Clara and Marcus are all rounded individuals however the author completely immerses the reader in their thoughts and actions and fleshes them out to such an extent that it becomes harder to differentiate between their good and bad sides. Particularly Geder and Dawson, these two characters are ones whose actions can particularly viewed in a horrific light however the author manages to make the reader connect with them and particularly create doubt in the reader’s minds. 

This book’s theme is about the folly of certainty and the actions based on it. There are a few lines in the book that highlight it well: 
 “Truth and lies, doubt and certainty. I haven’t found them to be what I thought they were. I dislike certainty because it feels like the truth, but it isn’t. If justice is based on certainty, but certainty is not the truth, atrocities become possible. We’re seeing the first of them now. More will come”. 

The author very conveniently plays with this theme and it is largely prevalent in the lives of Geder and Dawson, both of whom have the most upheavals in this book. Cithrin and Marcus however are not entirely exempt from this but their journey is more of an introspective one that makes them realize what they wish to do with their lives from this point forward. The POV count is also kept the same however the next book might see the introduction of a new character or two. In this regard the author has learnt a thing or two from his mentor and friend George R.R. Martin, namely the pitfalls in introducing more and more POV characters thereby complicating the story threads. The author keeps a tight rein on the storyline and keeps it focused with the help of the limited number of POVs. 

 Lastly the pacing of this book is much smoother than the first one and also with the addition of the taxonomy of the races, the classification seem to help the readers in understanding the differences in the races prevalent. The only negative for me in this book would be that this book lacks the EPIC feel that this series is supposed to be about, as right now it’s more focused on the action of the few that will lead to repercussions for the many. Perhaps the author intends to change this in the last three books but I would like the epic part of the story to begin as well so we can truly get to see this story come alive and discover more about the dragons and other mysteries of this world. The magic as well as the world setting if further explored will add to awesomeness of the series. 

CONCLUSION(LIVIU): Daniel Abraham has crafted a worthy sequel and perhaps a better book in terms of plot, characters and pace. All in all The King's Blood was the first 2012 fantasy that satisfied my expectations and of course it will have a place on my top 25 list of the year. I hope the series will continue to keep these extremely high standards all the way, while I believe that there is scope and depth for five books though I expect considerably more universe expansion.


Elfy said...

I'm reading this at the moment and am more than halfway through. It's a worthy sequel. The Dragon's Path was in my top 5 last year. I'm not sure that I rate The King's Blood quite that highly, but it is still very good. Abraham's characterisation is spot on, especially with a more complex character like Geder Palliako. It's just hit the fan in a major way where I was at this morning.

The Reader said...

@ Elfy

It definitely is a worthy sequel, but it has more twists than its predecessor. I just wish he had made it a bit more epic but there's three books left...


Joel said...

I have yet to start this series, I had been waiting to finish the Long Price Quartet. Now that I have, this will definitely be jumping up in my TBR list. Thanks for the great review, made it even more essential that I read this! :)

Liviu said...

I did not like Long Price - tried all books hoping to find a hook and never did - but I love this

The author's style is deliberate and cerebral rather than emotional or darkly cynical and I tend to prefer these last two in fantasy and the first in sf (as I find it generally hard to take fantasy seriously when it takes itself seriously so to speak, while conversely I prefer serious sf to over-the-top one) and The Long Price is cerebral fantasy epitomized.

Dragon's Path and King's Blood are looser and more ironical in some ways and I really like Geder and Cithrin's characters

Joel said...

I hadn't thought about those differences between the two genres before, although now that you mention it I suppose it makes sense. Still, I loved the Long Price Quarter, so I hope I'll enjoy this new series. I'll let you know what I think! :)

Liviu said...

The above comments about fantasy and sff are of course a simplification (eg I love GRRM and that is as serious as it gets), but I think they reflect why I enjoy some stuff (eg the over the top B. Weeks) and not other (eg the take me seriously Malazan)

Anyway, hope you enjoy this series too

Bard, The 'Cockeyed' said...

Read it and liked it. I had a few things to say though. Read my critique here:


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