Author: Daniel Abraham
Format: Trade Paperback
I was recently introduced to Daniel Abraham after reading Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War (co-written with Ty Franck under the pseudonym of James S.A. Corey). Considering my positive experience with their space opera, I was eager to try Abraham’s ongoing epic fantasy series.
The Dragon’s Path is the first book in The Dagger and the Coin series. The series title is appropriate, for the viewpoint characters are known either for their deftness with a blade or their shrewdness with their purse. Geder (the first viewpoint character) is one of the sword-bearers, a literary scholar of sorts, whose hobby of scribbling speculative essays poses little advantage in Abraham’s violent, medieval world. He becomes a political pawn when he is suddenly thrust from low social ranks into a position of power.
Cithrin (the second viewpoint character) is a sixteen-year-old orphan, living and working in a branch of the Medean Bank. Her home city of Vanai comes under attack, threatening the bank’s reserves, and in desperation, Cithrin is sent to lead a caravan of riches to safety. An able swordsman named Marcus (the third viewpoint character) serves to protect her with his band of actors who are dressed to look the part of soldiers. Perhaps the most moral of the viewpoint characters, Marcus serves as a protector and father-like adviser to the cunning Cithrin whose coming-of-age passes in the blink of an eye.
Baron Dawson Killiam (the fourth viewpoint character) is an upper-class nobleman and childhood friend of the king. He is the marionette of Geder’s political career and serves as a defender of the current social order. His stubbornness is balanced by his wife’s soft and kind influences as he schemes against others to gain political advantage.
What makes The Dragon’s Path an enjoyable read is the characters and each views Abraham’s world through a different lens. To Cithrin, economics rule and she begins to pave a way to financial prominence through ingenuity and deceit. To Geder, the world is cruel and misguided. He is uncertain in his aim, but will make bold decisions to avoid becoming a victim. To Dawson, the world is political. Every relationship is either to forge alliances or hinder enemies. The different worldviews of the characters help paint a rich tapestry of the society in which they live.
The style follows in a form similar to George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — the chapters are titled with the viewpoint character, none of which are clear protagonists or antagonists. The morally ambiguous antiheroes all serve to advance their own purposes (with a possible exception to Marcus) in a diverse, war-ridden world. But unlike Martin, there is very little in terms of fantastical elements. There are thirteen species of humans, but little is provided to the reader to differentiate them other than sparsely-added physical descriptions (such as tusks or long ears). The concept of multiple species is a great idea, but I am really hoping that subsequent books will explore them in greater detail, integrating them into the plot.
One of the challenges with developing an epic fantasy without a hero’s journey is developing a character the reader can identify with. Geder, at first glance, appears to be an unlikely hero — he’s a medieval geek, never fitting in with his expositions are seen as frivolous diversions. When he is put in a position that destines him to failure, he overcomes his circumstances in such a savage and detestable way that he commits treason on the reader. Despite draining the empathy out of me, Geder remains complex and interesting, leaving me completely uncertain of where his character will go.
Cithrin is probably the most interesting character. She is wise beyond her years, but her craftiness is limited, even when she uses her every advantage. Like Geder, our first impression of her changes quickly when we find out that she is not as innocent as we originally thought. But in her case, the character change is intriguing and through her struggles, she becomes more real to the reader.
I really enjoyed the first novel in The Daggar and the Coin series and I am very excited to read the already published second book. The characters are complex and are beautifully interwoven, the political and socio-economic environment are intricately designed, and the prose flows nicely. I recommend Abraham’s latest epic fantasy series and put it right on par with his space opera series, The Expanse.