2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Centuries ago the Old Empire fell to an internecine civil war, destroyed by the sorcerers known as poets, wielding the powers of ideas given human form and volition, the andat. Whilst the empire was destroyed, the colony-states across the ocean survived and became the cities of the Khaiem, where the power of the andat continues to hold sway and hold rival nations, such as expansionist Galt, in check. The Khaiem are subtle (relying on a complex courtly language of poses) but also ruthless in trade and in the defence of their riches.
Otah Machi was once a student of the poets, but when given the choice to study for entrance to the order he refused and went on the run, refusing to return to his noble home for fear of what chaos it would wreck in the order of succession. Instead, his path takes him south to the city of Saraykeht, a city whose riches are based on the cotton trade, strengthened as it is by the activities of the poet Heshai and his andat, Seedless. Meanwhile, another student of the poets also arrives in Saraykeht on an important mission. Both men become embroiled in a chilling conspiracy designed to destroy the power of the andat once and for all.
A Shadow in Summer is the first novel in The Long Price Quartet, Daniel Abraham's epic fantasy in which war, love, treachery, intrigue and hubris is studied and examined in-depth. Abraham's series is a noted departure in the subgenre in that his focus is more on the motivations of his protagonists rather that the trappings of the setting. The 'magic system', if the relationship between the poets and the andat can be described as such, is vivid and interestingly depicted, but it's more of a means to an end than an end in itself. In this, Abraham is reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay, whilst he also shows the influence of his one-time teacher George R.R. Martin in his multi-faceted characters. But the melancholic and slightly defeated tone of the many of the characters is something more unique to Abraham's writing, in particular his humane treatment of his villains, who are shown to have their reasons (feeble or otherwise) for what they are trying to do.
It's something of a quiet book, particularly for the opening volume of a four-volume epic fantasy series, focusing on emotions and motivations, and some may find it too slow-moving (despite its relatively concise 300-page length). But this is more the opening movement of a grand opera, hinting at and laying the groundwork for the greater and grander themes to come.
A Shadow in Summer (****) is a rich and convincing work of fantasy that strikes a different pose (pun intended) to many of its contemporaries, and is all the better for it. It is available now in the USA and, as part of the Shadow and Betrayal omnibus edition, in the UK.
on 16 December 2011
It's not often that a debut novel blows me away, but A Shadow in Summer did just that. I came across this book a few months ago on Fantasy Faction, where it was getting great word-of-mouth, and was surprised I had not heard of Abraham before; unlike contemporary debuts by Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, etc, this one had totally slipped under my radar.
The novel is set in Saraykeht, an Oriental-like city in an apparently pre-industrial fantasy world. It's hard to say who is the protagonist, since the book follows several characters involved on different sides of a complex political intrigue*, but my favourite is Amat Kyaan, the elderly chief accountant of a foreign merchant. Amat is what is generally described as "a tough old bird"; she refuses to take life lying down, despite the pain and fragility of her years, and is, to my mind, the most sympathetic and well-rounded character in the book.
What really sets this world apart is not just the Japanese-inspired culture, but the magic used by the poets of Saraykeht. Not wizards, mind; the poets themselves have no magic apart from the gift of being able to capture an abstract concept in words and thus transform it into a sentient being, an andat. These beautiful, djinn-like beings are enslaved to their poet-masters, and have the power to perform any magic that can be encompassed by the concept they embody. Thus the andat in this book, Seedless, is used to instantly remove the seeds from the cotton harvest, thus giving Saraykeht's textile-workers a huge advantage over other nations who must card their cotton by hand. However this is not the only possible use of his abilities - anything that involves the removal of seed (in its widest biological meaning) can be done with ease by the andat - and the story revolves around a plot to abuse that power.
This brings me around to my one criticism of the book (and the reason I deducted a star), which is that sometimes Abraham is too subtle for his own good. The intrigue hinges around an event which is described so obliquely, with litte explanation either before or after, that the reader is left scratching her head for several chapters, trying to work out what the heck just happened. I did come to some conclusions eventually, but my enjoyment of the book would have been greatly improved by just a little hand-holding from the author.
A Shadow in Summer is beautifully written, complex and subtle, and some may find the languorous pace of the narrative boring, but my experience was one of being drawn slowly but inexorably into a fascinating world that has all the elegance of a tea ceremony with the undercurrent of menace of an ukiyo-e woodcut. This is a seductive novel that I think will bear re-reading; if it's helter-skelter action you want, look elsewhere!
* I was not surprised to discover that he has occasionally collaborated with George R R Martin; whilst their books are very dissimilar in many respects, their politically complex, morally grey fantasy worlds have a lot in common.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2008
There's a lot that I want to like about this book - the fantasy world it's set in is very well-described, and the people in it behave as, well, people and not ideals or caricatures, with all their weaknesses. And, despite it being the first part of a tetralogy, it stands reasonably well on its own. Unfortunately, the author has tried to weave too complex a story. There is too much plotting, scheming and indirection. I'm sure that it all makes perfect sense to someone reading it several times, but I'm afraid it lost me a few times. This is one to get from the library.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2012
Can't get my head around this book and why anyone thought it was interesting...
Slow and boring. I gave up at half way though which is rare for me as I normally see it the the end.
Complete waste of time. Avoid!