The Dragon’s Path
Daniel Abraham is the author of the Long Price Quartet (of which I have one volume left to read) one of the most underrated, under-promoted, and just plain under-read series to have seen publication. Thankfully Abraham is back at it again, this time for the folks over at Orbit, a new book in a new series. The Dragon’s Path marks the first opening of The Dagger and Coin series a somewhat more traditional epic fantasy when compared to Abraham’s previous work.
The Dragon’s Path follows four main characters Marcus, Cithrin, Dawson, and Geder. Marcus, a war-hero turned merchant guard struggles with the memories of his past while attempted to forge a future. Cithrin, an orphaned girl raised by a bank seeks to define herself through action. Geder, a nobleman’s son raised far from the seat of political action suddenly finds himself thrust into the midst of his nation’s politics while Dawson is an old guard nobleman struggling against the rising younger nobles. Each of these characters are on a journey of self-discovery and the novel spends a lot of time carefully exploring who each of these characters really is. Of course, those explorations have ramifications far beyond our character’s personal spheres.
I tried to be as spoiler free as possible, be warned!
That search for identity is what really drives The Dragon’s Path forward. Sure, this is epic fantasy and while some the character’s are responsible for some world-changing events by and large the novel’s focus remains centered on the characters. This is particularly apparent in Geder’s storyline. Abraham quickly introduces Geder as a sympathetic character opening with a description of a book in the young nobleman’s possession: “The dialect was ancient and obscure. The leather binding wasn’t original. Its pages were almost brown with age, and the ink was faint. He loved it.” This quickly establishes Geder as an individual wholly unsuited to the war he is currently participating. Mocked for his intellectual pursuits as well as his girth it becomes rather easy for readers to feel sorry for the Geder. It is a brilliant ploy because it adds an extra layer of revulsion and horror to Geder’s actions later in the novel transforming him into, in my opinion at least, a rather tragic figure.
Of course Geder’s transformation isn’t entirely his own making. In another brilliant move the impetus for this shift in Geder’s disposition comes at the behest of another character’s affirmation of identity. Dawson Kalliam, the Baron of Osterling Fells is an older nobleman, a savy politician, aghast at the impropriety of the current younger generation of nobility. Dawson is maneuvering against this younger political faction that is undermining the “honorable” ideals that the nobility should espouse. Again we see a clash of identity: Dawson’s view of what his caste should be doing versus something newer. Dawnson’s strong belief in who he is has a sort of ripple effect galvanizing others of like mind and forcing the hand those who don’t and the resulting wave is what sweeps of Geder and places him in the position it does. Of course, Geder’s own actions have ripples in Dawson’s world and it is the resulting conflict that reshapes both their world’s. Much like Geder, Dawson’s initial characterization is sympathetic a sort of honorable old guard struggling against the impetuous youth. But again Abraham slowly reveals that Dawson’s unbending honor is as much a vice as a virtual and his view of the proper order of things is one derived from a position of power.
I could probably go on further analyzing the ways in which Geder and Dawson’s storylines play off of one another but they are only one half of the story. The other two perspectives in the novel, that of Marcus and Cithrin, are not as immediately involved in the political makeup of the world. Instead both of their perspectives operate on an entirely more personal level. While Marcus doesn’t quite struggle with identity, the death of his family in a previous war has left him adrift and purposeless floating along from job to job while avoiding connections to ruling parties. Cithrin on the other hand struggles with her identity a great deal and, in a clever bit of symmetry the loss of her family through fire (exactly how Marcus’s family died) is what allows both the character’s to find purpose through the presence of the other.
The Dragon’s Path isn’t a fast novel. Events build slowly and Abraham works carefully at concealing what is unfolding and for all the novel’s “epic” qualities it is a grounded affair. This isn’t a novel about big battles (though it has one) or magic (though it has a little) but a novel about change on a grand scale. I was somewhat disappointed that the threat revealed in the novel’s prologue does not play a larger role in the event but it is really a small drop of disappointment in a much larger ocean of general pleasure. Abraham seems an author who enjoys the slow build, focusing on characters over action. While the world of The Dragon’s Path does not feel as original as the Long Price Quartet I found that Abraham’s unique style and intricate plotting lent the novel an air of originality. The focus on characters did leave the world-building a little lacking but I look forward to exploring this complex world further in future volumes of the Dagger and Coin.