A Betrayal In Winter
Tor, 2008 (mmpb)
A Betrayal In Winter is the second book in Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet and is set fifteen years after the events of A Shadow In Summer. A Betrayal In Winter is, if anything, a text book example of how to write a politic heavy novel in a fantasy culture. While A Betrayal In Winter doesn’t chance the “slow burn” pacing Abraham employed in A Shadow In Summer the familiar characters made it much easier for me to settle into the book and the new characters were complex, brilliantly drawn, and familiar enough that I found myself looking forward to their chapters/pov as much as Itani and Matti.
A Betrayal In Winter opens with death one of the Khai Machi’s sons initiating the battle of brother-against-brother assassinations that will determine the identity of the next Khai Machi. In the Dhai-kvo’s village the disgraced poet Maati is sent by his master to uncover whether or not his old teacher/friend Otah (Itani) is the one behind the murders. Otah, meanwhile, is happily living the life of a courier having fallen in love with the smarty and savvy owner of an Inn. Unfortunately, he is being sent on a job to Machi and fears being drawn into the sibling conflict beginning there despite his desire to remain below the radar. The plot of A Betrayal In Winter seamlessly blends a thrilling political theme, complete with twists and turns, with a novel about personal growth and identity.
On the one front we have Itani/Otah who still struggles to find his place in the world and is still uncertain, or perhaps indecisive, as to who he really is. Then there is Maati who was abandoned by his wife/lover Amiit and left alone to suffer the shame of his past failures who, despite his training, is hardly a poet at all. We have Idaan Machi, daughter of the Khai Machi, who struggles to be noticed and rails against the constraints society places on her gender. There is the poet Cehmai who struggles between matters of duty and responsibility, and the calling of his own heart. Each character, in one way or another, struggles with either their own perception of self or how society itself perceives them. In this way Abraham creates some stunning and moving personal drama as these troubled characters interact with one another and form relationships or, as is often the case, as the characters run headlong into a brick wall formed of what society expects of them. A Betrayal In Winter is full of character defining moments, turning-points and believable growth for characters that I hope appear in the remaining two novels.
A Betrayal In Winter also gives us another pairing of poet/andat that could likely being examined in a whole book by itself. Cehmai and Stone-made-soft are as different from Heshai and Seedless as night and day. Yet, as we learn over the course of the book, they are also the same. Abraham reinforces the idea that andat and poets are, in a manner of speaking, the same entity. Where Seedless’ scheming in A Shadow In Summer was fairly obvious and came from a deep seeded vein of self-loathing; Stone-made-soft takes a far subtler approach using his age and experience with countless poets (Stone-made-soft has a fairly ingenious binding) to nudge Cehmai into a place of weakness. The metaphor of Stone-made-soft’s binding carries over from it’s physical manifestation into action if a gentle, subtle way finally revealing itself only towards the novel’s end.
While A Betrayal In Winter employs the same slow pacing of A Shadow In Summer the tension of the characters’ individual stories and their various roles in the novel’s overarching plot made for a quicker read. While still light on the action, A Betrayal In Winter does add a certain amount of action to the mix this time around. There are a number of action-oriented scenes and Abraham manages to turn some of the more cerebral scenes into real nail-biters. The novel evens adds an element of humor to the mix with introduction of the mercenary Sinja whose flippant attitude and frequent quips provide an excellent contrast to the more serious tone of the novel.
With A Betrayal In Winter I am perhaps more ashamed then ever that it has taken me so long to read the Long Price Quartet and more than a little disappointed that Abraham seems to have generated such moderate buzz. Admittedly neither of the books I’ve read so far have been particularly flashy and I’m not quite sure how you might market them to increase their visibility. While I found it difficult to settle into A Shadow In Summer I had no problems diving right into this novel; even if did expect to struggle a bit here as well. I was absolutely blown-away by the deft plotting and intricate character work I’ve seen so far and look forward to continuing my journey with these characters and this world in An Autumn War. The Long Price Quartet is a fantasy series unlike any other fantasy series I’ve read so far and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit meatier (in terms of content if not length) to sink their teeth into.