The Dragon’s Path
I hadn’t intended to read this book just yet. For one, I try to avoid starting into any series currently in progress. I don’t want to wait for forthcoming volumes, nor do I want the author to die on me. (I made an exception for the Malazan books, because there was no way I could catch up with Erikson.) For one more, I generally prefer to wrap up one series by an author before starting into another. As it is, I am one book into The Long Price Quartet and three into The Expanse (whoops – there’s another exception), so Dagger and Coin was just going to have to wait. I had not planned on the inimitable Carl V., from Stainless Steel Droppings, organizing a group read of volume one of this very series. Coming on the heels of the very long, but maybe not epic 1Q84 read-along, it might have been wise to blow this one off. I’ve grown attached to these blogosphere events however, with that chance to meet new friends, talk about books my wife and kids are not the least bit interested in, read things I might not have seen otherwise, and learn a little more about the SFF world.
Carl hosted the event here, as a Goodreads group. (I think that anyone can read, regardless of status. If not, I’m sure Carl will let any interested folks in. It is a read-along though, not a review collection, so everything is quite spoilery.) He is also posting his own review here, as well as a list of other participating bloggers. So, assuming that the gentle reader didn’t just come from said list, I recommend checking it out for a veritable plethora of Dan Abraham goodness. Because there are more traditional reviews aplenty, I will use this post to dig a little deeper into topics explored in the read-along, highlighting some things I found most interesting in the book. Some of this will rehash stuff I brought up in discussion, but hopefully I can make this both more organized and more intelligent.
I enjoy the solid political and economic foundation present in many of Abraham’s stories. I am known to compare him to L.E. Modesitt, Jr., another SFF practitioner with tastes close to my own. Modesitt tends more towards the political however, as befits someone with his DC background, while Abraham, an admitted armchair economist, dabbles more in the money and trade side of things. Dragon’s Path features a banker as a viewpoint character, so it necessarily follows that money is at the heart of this story. Unlike A Shadow in Summer, where the economy is crucial to the plot but stays in the background, Cithrin and her bank are front and center, though the actual banking bit is less important than the character. (For those that didn’t notice, Shadow‘s entire plot hinges on the concept of competitive advantage, a basic tenet of macroeconomics. This sort of “learned it in college but forgot” information is masked by the magic that generates said competitive advantage.)
Abraham’s inclinations toward politico-economic realities add a dimension to his world building that is often glossed over. I imagine that most readers don’t notice this sort of thing, but those of us with the requisite training are liable to sit there thinking, “Now how is the king paying for this army? Where do they get their food? What’s up with this giant city just sitting here, surrounded by nothing?” For us, Abraham is like a cool, refreshing glass of water. In this book, the usual Abraham craft is enhanced by the history he creates. Most of it is left to the imagination, but the past empire, ruled by the dragons that created the thirteen human races, left roads and landmarks, and finally destroyed themselves in a war of some sort, is something I want to know more about. There are just enough hints to tantalize, leaving us hoping that more detail unfolds in later books. This has to rate as one of my favorite fantasy back stories.
More fun comes from the main characters. I would guess that Marcus, the mercenary with a troubled past, and Geder, the vengeful nerd, attract most of the attention. The first, because he is a popular archetype, and the second, because he is rather like what many of us would be, if (SPOILER ALERT) we got really pissed off about people giving us crap for liking books and burned an entire city to the ground. (SPOILERS OVER) The smart money is on me cheering for Cithrin, since one might assume that I have a soft spot for attractive, female, finance experts. I will neither confirm nor deny this accusation, but must confess that the character that most interested me is d) none of the above. Oddly enough, it is Dawson that wins my favor, or at least my interest.
This is not to say that I like him. Dawson is exactly the sort of reactionary, arrogant noble that is usually reserved for villainous roles. Instead, he is a point of view character, initially sympathetic, and full of those virtues one generally cheers for: honor, loyalty, valor, etc. He is also completely on the wrong side of history, as we come to see that he is opposing what most of us modern-day types would encourage as egalitarian and democratic. Within a few chapters, Dawson is facing down a faction that would improve the lot of peasants and bring a certain amount of necessary political and economic reform to an increasingly untenable kingdom. And yet, he is not Bad, even if he is hardly Good. Abraham sidesteps any such simple dichotomy, instead merely portraying the ongoing machinations from Dawson’s perspective. I suppose this is mostly fun for contrarian me because I can easily imagine how tied up some readers will be. We Americans in particular are vulnerable to both the airs of nobility (ROYAL WEDDING!!!!) and popular uprisings (FREEEEDOOOOM!), leaving us nicely skewered by a character who tweaks both of these.
I will definitely continue reading this series. The Long Price Quartet is going to take priority, both because it is a completed work and because right now I like it a bit more. I prefer unconventional fantasy to the standard, epic variety, no matter how skilled the latter, but not every reader is going to agree with me. I am intensely curious to see what happens to everyone though, to see what sorts of horrific evil are hinted at in the prologue, and to find out more about the vanished dragon empire. Abraham is one of the best fantasy writers working right now, so I owe it to myself to consume it all.