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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"The Tyrant's Law" by Daniel Abraham (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo)

INTRODUCTION: The Tyrant's Law is the third installment of Daniel Abraham's Dagger and Coin series after The Dragon Path and The King's Blood. For a description of the series' universe, I refer to our reviews of the previous books linked above and for the blurb, to the Amazon link to avoid immediate spoilers. However the review below necessarily has spoilers for what came before...

ANALYSIS (Mihir): I would be lying if I didn't mention that this book was heavily anticipated by lots of book bloggers, including me. Daniel Abraham since the start of this series has become more and more of a fantasy writing star. His debut series had established his writing credentials but with the Dagger And The Coin series he has really established himself as an epic fantasy writer. This series is a proper visitation of medieval epic fantasy tropes but with the author's slant. 

The story is now firmly in the middle of the planned arc of five books and we open with Kit and Marcus who are taking their journey together to destroy the Spider goddess and all those who would worship her. Kit and Marcus have their hands full as they covertly try to reach where Kit became an apostate. The second thread opens up with Cithrin who is now apprenticed to another Medean bank but far away in and she discovers that she has a lot to learn about banking as well as inter-personal relations. Clara Dawson is slowly becoming what she was accused of previously but slowly decided to save her nation by betraying it. Lastly we have Geder who is learning more about his role, the fate of Antea and the function of spider priests and vagaries of fate vis-a-vis his personal life. 

These are the POV characters since the last book barring one-off prologue ones and a rare epilogue-ish one. Daniel Abraham has kept a tight hold of his story and his refusal to exponentially increase the POV list has helped this series tremendously. This narrow focus helps center the story and now that the story is slowly evolving beyond the confines of traditional fantasy. It has become an absolute pleasure to read. Last time around I had mentioned that the story needs to be a bit more epic, well with the prologue and the climax of the story; the author really swings the epic part back into the story. So far we have only heard about what happened in the past but within the pages we get a very solid look at what could have possibly happened. This was my favorite part of the book as the author easily shows what lies ahead and it is mouthwatering to say the least. Characterization has been Daniel Abraham’s signature as world building has been Brandon Sanderson's forte and he continues to allow his characters to evolve naturally without it seeming to be convoluted. Geder, Cithrin and Marcus are the main POV characters however the others share remarkable page time and thus every chapter pushes the story arc significantly and keeps the readers entertained on all levels. 

This book clearly takes a look at the journey trope with this being explored by Marcus and Kit. I enjoyed this section of the story the most as Daniel Abraham subverts this trope and  then makes the reader confused as we can never guess where their thread is going. For me their thread was the most lucrative plot thread this time around. Also I was looking forward to the meeting between Marcus and Yardem especially after the second book but the event was not much of a showdown. Also this book does another spectacularly is that it brings into play some characters from the first book as well as the legends which were talked/discussed in the first book. So readers that don't recall the previous story, I would suggest that a re-read of the first book might be of vital importance. 

I don’t think I had any complaints with this book as it doesn't suffer from the middle volume syndrome and offers a near complete story but of course ending in such a fashion for you to hunger for the penultimate volume immediately. Maybe another drawback could be that readers expecting all out action and mayhem may not find it as for majority of the book, the characters are often scheming or traveling to new places. This perhaps can be something of a deterrent for readers expecting an action-packed story-line. 

Overall I'm highly impressed with Daniel Abraham and his storytelling efforts. This series is his version of epic fantasy and is a spectacular one. For folks who have to discover him, kindly do so at the earliest as the Dagger and the Coin quintet is epic fantasy handled by an exquisite writer who is at the top of his writing game. The Tyrant's Law is a very good book and also manages to upend the scales of the over all story arc significantly, making the wait for The Widow's House (4th book) a very hard one. Highly recommended for series fans.

ANALYSIS (Liviu)To give a taste of where The Tyrant's Law and more generally Dagger and Coin sits, I offer here a choice early quote with the name of the characters removed though for anyone familiar with the earlier volumes, it iss easily guessed who is talking with whom. This is the fantasy version of science clashing with religion and is representative of the partly ironical, partly serious but always contemporary tone of the books:

“That can’t be right, can it?” **** said.
***** raised querying eyebrows.
“The three-year fire,” **** explained. “A fire that went on that long would have left a layer of ash all over the world. And there are cities that stood where they are now since before the dragons fell.”
“If it must be, it must be,” **** said. “But the fire years are truth.”
“But there are forests in Northcoast that have trees older than that. Not many, maybe, but I read an essay about how you can tell the age of a tree by the number of rings, and it said the largest of the redwoods in Northcoast—”

There is a lot of universe expansion, quite a few twists and turns including one that I really did not expect and that plays well with the fantasy tropes and of course the superb characters we know from the previous volumes. The structure is still of 4 alternating pov's and finally Marcus gets to truly shine, though I greatly enjoyed each storyline as they complement and intersect well.

The other main strengths are the literate style of the author which makes for smooth transitions between pov's and the narrative energy that compels one to turn the pages until the end. While the ending is another "to be continued", we get a bonus snippet from the next installment, The Widow's House.

If there is one thing that lessens the impact of this series is the structural decision of the author to imbue his world with modern ideology (hey ho everyone prefers diversity until the spider priests and their "universal conformity" and racial cleansing agenda we start seeing in this volume) which of course in an ironic, and at a guess I would say unintentional though of course here I could be wrong, way, illustrates precisely the main weakness of "live and let live", namely that when genocidal but charismatic and pseudo-secular baddies come, most people do not see a reason to oppose them if they are not their target (see Communism, Nazism, etc...).

In our modern world there are structural reasons why "live and live" is workable though of course it's way too early to tell for how long - mostly the ability of technology to deliver only when combined with a relatively free society as the ultimate failure of communism showed, but in any pre-industrial world only tradition and faith were bulwarks against such and the series essentially lacks both, with only the doomed Dawson as embodiment of tradition but with a notable lack of serious religion, making the spider priests takeover a cakewalk...



Paul Weimer said...

There is a mixture of action and intrigue, grand worldbuilding and small character moments.

Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Share your enthusiasm for Tyrants Law & Dagger & Coin Series. Differ however, with your view that the "live and let live ethos" reflects an exclusvively modern sensibility. Although the legal idea of "genocide" is a 20th century notion - resistance to the use of force against civilians & for "unjust causes" has ancient roots and can be found in "Old Testament", Holy Koran, Laws of Manu etc. (This is ironic since much comunitarian violence is religiously motivated.) However, the point here is that the struggle between the "live & let live" view and its opposite is not new. What is new is the world wide effort to create structures that can prevent and punish such conduct. I think Abraham's ability to weave this dynamic into this work in a non bombastic way is artistically admirablle.


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