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DIFFICULT BUT WORTH THE EFFORT
on 18 October 2013
If you've read Daniel Abraham before, then this review should hold no surprises but, if you're reading this wondering whether or not to take plunge, then I hope that this helps. If you have read the Dagger & Coin series ( as far as it's reached ) then I can tell you that these two / four books follow. a very similar line. So the first question is 'how many books are in this series?' and the answer is that the whole story is told in two volumes and each volume contains two 'books'. Each book continues the story with the same characters with a time gap between each book. Now,pay attention because this is important: this review is about the first book only and to make any real sense it has to be read in conjunction with the review of the second book, Seasons of War. Shadow & Betrayal only gets three stars from me but both Seasons of War and the series as a whole gets a much higher score.
As with other Daniel Abraham series, the concepts here, including a world where magic is harnessed by poets and communication is as much by gesture as by speech, are brilliant. There are profoundly deeper meanings in the details of this fantasy world but they are revealed in 'book 3'. The threads of racism, sexism, wealth disparity, political exigencies and love are all, very, very, slowly drawn together and, for me, is what makes these books so remarkably good. You have to persevere with these books ( read on) but the message and sense at the end makes it worthwhile.
OK, here's the bad part. Book 1 is terribly slow going and very little actually happens. That this volume is necessary is not contested and it does lay a rock solid basis for what follows, but it is unnecessarily torpid and could, easily, be trimmed without affecting the story at all. For myself, the excellent writing style and what little movement in the story there is is sufficient to keep me reading but I can imagine that this isn't the case with every reader. Then it gets worse! The second book (still volume 1) should pick up the pace a bit but it doesn't. The slow pace continues almost all of the way through book 2, only stirring right at the end. By the time many readers get to the end of this volume, they just won't bother to buy the second volume; Seasons of War.
That would be a huge mistake. The story builds pace in book 3 and by book 4, it's riveting. Book 4 is sublime and, crucially, cannot be enjoyed without having read Shadow & Betrayal first. It's like a London cab driver. There is no shortcut to the unique skill of negotiating the capital city; the gruelling pain of The Knowledge has to be successfully undertaken first. The profound pleasure of this series can only be experienced by starting with Shadow & Betrayal. Go on, it's worth it.