Friday, May 25, 2012

The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham

The King’s Blood is the second book in Daniel Abraham’s planned five book series The Dagger and the Coin, the follow up to last year’s opener The Dragon’s Path.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dragon’s Path (it even ended up on my top 5 books of 2011) and eagerly awaited the release of The King’s Blood. Fortunately because I read The Dragon’s Path relatively late in the year the wait for The King’s Blood was rather short. Does it live up to the promise shown in The Dragon’s Path? Oh hell yes!

It follows the same 5 PoV characters as were introduced in The Dragon’s Path: ambitious young banker Cithrin Bel Sarcour, cynical, world weary mercenary captain Marcus Wester, the scholar turned political powerbroker Geder Palliako, the king maker Dawson Kalliam  and Dawson’s intelligent wife Clara. There are also a couple of chapters from the priest masquerading as the leader of a group of travelling players; Master Kit.

For a book of this size and something that has the scope of a genuine fantasy epic there’s not a lot of action or world building, although he has created 12 non human races, but I don’t feel it’s all that necessary. Characterisation is Abraham’s strength, and that’s obvious in the cast at play here. They feel and act real. Their actions make sense, they speak in ways befitting their station in life and you come to care for them. My two favourites are Cithrin and Marcus. The interaction between Marcus and his Tragul second in command; Yardem, was a real highlight for me. Those bantering exchanges were a joy to read. I tend to like Geder as well, but for entirely different reasons, the man is a monster, but he’s so delightfully complex that it’s fascinating to watch his character unfold. He’s also responsible for what I felt was one of the book’s real shocking moments. I think I like Cithrin because of what she does and how she does it. So often in a fantasy world authors forget the reality of any functioning society, and that’s commerce, being a banker by upbringing and having to operate nefariously because of her age, Cithrin is right in the middle of that. I can only think of two other books that have covered this part of an invented world so well. One is Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and to a lesser extent it’s followup Red Seas Under Red Skies, and Raymond E. Feist’s Rise of a Merchant Prince, which for mine is the best of his Midkemia books outside of Magician.

The story of The King’s Blood picks up largely where The Dragon’s Path left off. Cithrin’s deception has been uncovered and she chafes under the restrictions of the officious clerk the bank has put in charge of her.  Marcus commands his company and as he always has, puts it’s services completely at Cithrin’s disposal. Geder has been appointed Prince Aster’s guardian and has power he is not at all equipped to handle, not to mention being completely under the influence of the mysterious priests he’s brought back to Camnipol with him after his journey of discovery in The Dragon’s Path. Dawson is still planning how to increase Antea’s power and influence and position his family better. Clara tries to hold her family together, while making deals and assisting her husband in every way possible.

One small criticism I have is the same as the first book, full use does not seem be made of the non human races. They look different, but they have the same language and largely the same cultures, which seems odd to me. There are indications that the differences will become more pronounced as the series progresses, though.

The 5 PoV's are largely separate for good chunk of the book until later in it when most of the major players come together and begin to impact on each other’s lives. Abraham’s style is gentle, but compulsively readable and he’s put together a cast of characters you want to read about. The Dagger and the Coin is rather classic epic fantasy, and with these opening two books it’s becoming one of my favourites. Abraham doesn’t do the big cliffhanger at the end of the books as such, but that doesn’t make me any less impatient for book 3; The Spider’s War

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