A Shadow in Summer: A book worth re-reading

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Daniel Abraham The Long Price Quartet A Shadow in SummerA Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

The Cities of the Khaiem shine like jewels in the East, and the brightest is the port of Saraykeht. The realm’s profitable cotton trade flows through the city, quickened by the artistry of the poet Heshai. For in the East, a poet’s art can become incarnate as a powerful spirit-slave (andat), and it is on the shoulders of Heshai, master of the andat Seedless, that the weight of Saraykeht’s continuing prosperity balances… a weight outsiders would gladly topple.

In these delicate times, first-time novelist Daniel Abraham chronicles the poignant choices of a handful of characters seldom seen in the “fantasy” genre: a middle-aged, female overseer of a foreign merchant house; her aging employer, the house’s lord; her young assistant; the assistant’s lover (a common dock-laborer); and Heshai’s newly-arrived apprentice. Together and individually, without sword or spell, these elegantly-realized few will determine Saraykeht’s fate.

Daniel Abraham, quite often a poet himself in fashioning the novel’s lacquer-smooth prose, has written a marvelous novel — a “fantasy” by virtue of its setting and the andat’s power, but a fantasy that can be gleefully dropped in the lap of anyone complaining of generic, Arthurian or Tolkien-esque settings; paper-deep protagonists; or unrestrained gore. A Shadow in Summer is both fresh and literary, and as Mr. Abraham has spent years writing short fiction and honing his craft, he deserves every compliment that comes his way.

Although A Shadow in Summer is not a perfect book — some will no doubt label the communicative custom of “poses” (e.g. “[he] took a pose half query and half command”) as a device to cheat and tell emotions instead of showing them; and there is a plot issue [highlight the following text if you want to read this spoiler]: The plot is driven by a Western conspiracy to remove the poet and andat and thus cripple the city. The execution of the story is solid enough that one may not pause to consider the larger picture; but in retrospect, it seems implausible that the conspirators would adopt their complex, innocent-life-taking scheme when assassinating the poet would work just as well. Of course, it could not be a blatant, traceable act, but a well-planned “accident” — perhaps a roof tile falling on the strolling poet (as it does on others in an actual scene), a mugging, or the consumption of “bad” liquor or drugs — would work equally well and with fewer contortions. A Shadow in Summer is a book worth owning and, likely, re-reading. Fans of Barry Hughart and Guy Gavriel Kay should take special note of this tale. Four summer-bright stars.

~Rob Rhodes


fantasy book reviews Cherie Priest FathomI’ve been meaning to read Daniel Abraham’s THE LONG PRICE QUARTET for years, because that’s how long Bill and Rob have been talking about it. Since it has just been released in audio format by Tantor Audio, I decided now is the time. I really enjoyed the first book, A Shadow in Summer, which didn’t surprise me at all, and I look forward to reading the next book, A Betrayal in Winter, this week.

In A Shadow in Summer, we’re introduced to a small cast of main characters who live in Saraykeht, an Eastern-inspired land where magic is created and controlled by poets who, through some inborn potential and some training, manage to figure out how to understand and poetically describe some force of nature which is then under their control. This “andat” is a spirit that actually manifests as a person who the poet is able to control (often with great difficulty) until he dies. Early poets took all the easy andats (wind, rain, etc.), so the modern poets are left with the scraps — forces that are obscure, not very useful, or are hard to control. The poet Heshai, who we meet in A Shadow in Summer, controls an andat who has the power to remove seeds from cotton. He’s been named “Seedless” and his ability to quickly pick cotton has made Saraykeht the center of the world’s cotton industry.

But there are some problems with Seedless. First is that he is a rather nasty fellow who, understandably, resents being under Heshai’s control. Nobody likes him, but he keeps the city prosperous. Second is that Seedless not only has the power to de-seed cotton, but to de-seed anything else, too, including humans. That’s why Saraykeht considers itself safe from enemy invasion. As long as Heshai controls Seedless and is loyal to Saraykeht, no enemy will be willing to go up against them. A related problem is that since Seedless has this power, an abortion industry (called the “Sad Trade”) has also developed in Saraykeht. Heshai hates being involved in it, but the city’s ruler requires Heshai to command Seedless to perform abortions. When one particular abortion goes wrong, our main characters discover a plot against their city. Together they will work to prevent the downfall of Saraykeht.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMy favorite thing about A Shadow in Summer is the fascinating magic system. I love the idea of being able to turn a poetic thought into a real power and I look forward to meeting more andats (I hope) in the three sequels. I also admire Daniel Abraham’s characters. Each is a complex unique individual with a distinct personality, an interesting backstory, special skills gained through education and experience, and particular weaknesses that get them into trouble. There is no single hero in this story, so we have no guarantee that any of these characters will survive to the end. I enjoyed the ethical dilemmas these characters faced as their circumstances spun out of control.

There was one minor thing that annoyed me a bit. In this Eastern-inspired city, body language is used to express emotion and convey meaning, so characters are frequently taking a “pose” to, for example, express gratitude. After a while, this got tiring and I found myself wishing that instead of taking “a pose of affirmation,” the character would just say “yes” or instead of “a pose of acceptance” he’d just say “okay,” or instead of “a pose of query” he’d just say “WTF?”

Tantor Audio’s version of A Shadow in Summer is 14.5 hours long. It’s narrated by Neil Shah who I was happy with most of the time. I liked all of his voices for the male characters and I thought he did a great job of relating the occasional irony and humor that Daniel Abraham intended, especially with his slightly slimy voice for Seedless. However, I thought he wasn’t as successful with the female characters. The way he lowered his pitch and made their tones kind of whispery made these voices unattractive. It wasn’t enough to keep me from recommending the audio, though, and I’ll happily read the rest of the series that way.

~Kat Hooper 


Bill’s review of the first three books in the series:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Daniel Abraham The Long Price QuartetI often fall into the temptation of wanting to rush out and review a new book in a series immediately. It’s fresh, it’s out there, let’s let people know. But then I find myself three or four books in and wondering if readers should have bothered starting that first book, no matter how good it was.

So when it came to Daniel Abraham’s THE LONG PRICE QUARTET, which began with A Shadow in Summer, as much as I enjoyed the book, I thought I’d hold off until we saw where he went with it. Having just completed An Autumn War, the third book of four, I feel confident in telling readers, “jump on in; the reading’s fine.”

The series is set in a world where there are basically two competing forces. One is the Eastern-tinged independent “summer cities” of the Khaiem. Rich, sophisticated, plush cities whose power is predicated upon a single magical concept — Andats. Created and controlled by “poets” (one poet to an Andat, one Andat to a city), Andats are ideas/metaphors made real and in humanoid shape. Each Andat has a single power that can be applied in multiple ways. For instance, the andat of Saraykeht, “Removing the part that continues,” more familiarly known as “Seedless,” can separate seeds from cotton, a huge advantage which allows the city to become a mercantile power. Seedless can also be used, however, to separate human seed, either on a one to one basis as an abortion (called the “sad trade”) or on a much wider basis, wiping out hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands. This threat would clearly make another power think twice about taking on the city.

Creation of an Andat is life-threatening, and control of one is a constant strain, as the Andat is bound to the poet (indeed, is in some ways made of the poet) but has its own personality and its own agenda, including a desire to be free. Andats can be kept and handed off from one poet to another over generations, though it is always a risk and always gets harder, meaning there is constant fear by the cities of losing their Andat.

Opposed to the summer cities, though not overtly (due to the power of the Andats), are the Galts, a more technological, more military-based civilization who covet the riches of the summer cities and — even more than the riches — the Andat themselves. A Shadow in Summer introduces the setting — a conspiracy by Galt to break the power of Saraykeht by freeing Seedless — and the major characters: Amat, a merchant woman who uncovers the conspiracy; Itani (later called Otah), a common laborer who once trained to be a poet; Liat, Amat’s assistant and Itani’s lover; Heshai, the poet who controls Seedless; and Maati, Heshai’s pupil who is training to eventually take over Seedless.

Book Two, A Betrayal in Winter, is set 15 years later and shifts to a more northern summer city — Machi. Here, the Khai (each city’s ruler is called the Khai) is dying. The tradition is that the sons of the khai enter into a kill-or-be-killed competition until only one is left alive to take the throne. It turns out that Otah (Itani) from book one is a long-forgotten son of the Khai who had been sent away as a child to train as a poet, a training he turned his back on for the life of a laborer until the events of book one. Once again, Otah is caught up in a complicated conspiracy, this one involving the succession of Machi. Also involved are Machi’s poet Cehmai Tyan, his andat Stone-Made-Soft, Maati, and the Khai’s daughter Idaan.

Book Three, An Autumn War, set over a decade later, presents a much broader threat. The first two books focused on a single city. In An Autumn War, we meet a Galtic general, Balasar Gice, who sees the Andat as a threat not only to Galt, but to the world (deep history offers up some reason for this belief). Having come up with what he believes is a successful method of destroying the Andat, Gice marches an army on all the summer cities, aiming for Machi as his last conquest. Otah, now ruler of Machi, must find a way to stop not only Gice’s army, but also his plot against the Andat and poets, aided by his fellow characters from the previous two books along with a few important additions.

Except for the latter half of An Autumn War, which follows Gice’s march on the summer cities, these books are not action-oriented. There are almost no battles, no quests, no swordsmanship, etc. The books are driven more by intricate conspiracies that must be either put into place or unraveled (depending on which characters we’re following at the time) and by the characters and their relationships. These are, for the most part, richly complex characters (A Betrayal in Winter is the weakest in this regard) torn by conflicting desires and struggling with major ethical questions. Seedless can be read as a simple villain, but he is enslaved to the poet’s will and this garners him much sympathy. As does his multi-faceted personality, able to be sinister and charming, to hate and to like. Gice, as well, can be simply read, but while his means are brutal, his intentions are noble and hard to fault on many levels. The characters’ complexity also is displayed in the changes they undergo over the many years spanned by the three books; they are not the same people in book three as in book one and their differences are utterly believable. Daniel Abraham’s characters are probably the best thing about THE LONG PRICE QUARTET, and enough on their own to warrant reading.

The Eastern-influence of the setting is nicely different. And it’s also refreshing to have a magical system that is so limited and has a stark cost associated with it, as opposed to the wave-of-the-hand magic we see so often. I would have liked a greater sense of the whole world, and especially more on the Galts, but this was a relatively minor flaw. As mentioned, A Betrayal in Winter suffers from somewhat weaker characters than the other two, but not to any major detriment and if anything, its plot is more focused and the writing tighter, so the character issue is somewhat balanced. An Autumn War’s subplot about a possible turncoat never really rings fully true, but luckily it’s only a subplot. Abraham’s use of formalized gestures as complement to conversation adds to the wonderful sense of difference, though I’m not sure it was mined for its full potential. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of humor leavened throughout. But again, these are all relatively minor complaints and all outweighed by the richly compelling characters, the brilliant premise of the andats (what reader can’t root for a book where poets — poets! — have so much power), the careful layering of plot points that lead inexorably to the current point, etc.

Having read three-quarters of the way through this series, I eagerly await its conclusion in book four (The Price of Spring). THE LONG PRICE QUARTET is a compelling fantasy that won’t feel to readers like the same old same old epic fantasy. Nor do they need to worry that it will tease them into a series with a good opening than steadily deteriorates (you know who I mean). Plus, it has the added advantage of having each book happily able to stand independently — no cliffhanger endings here. So as I said at the start: jump on in, the reading’s fine. Highly recommended.

~Bill Capossere


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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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6 comments

  1. It’s probably time for me to read this one, too.

  2. Matt W /

    Best fantasy series ever, IMO. “Slimy” may be an unfortunate choice for Seedless. The andat are not really moral creatures; they’re more like caged tigers. It’s your own fault if you get bitten.

    • It’s interesting that you say that, Matt. Do you mean the andat are amoral or immoral? Because Seedless seemed to have a sort of righteous anger at one point and he seemed to have a genuine concern for Maati, but that might have been because he thought Maati could further his own aims.

  3. Okay, I’ll wait before reading them… for a while.

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