The Dragon’s Path: Looking forward to more

fantasy book reviews Daniel Abraham The Dagger and the Coin 1. The Dragon's Pathfantasy book reviews Daniel Abraham The Dagger and the Coin 1. The Dragon's PathThe Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

CLASSIFICATION: Influenced by the likes of Alexandre Dumas, George R.R. Martin, Joss Whedon, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J. Michael Straczynski among others, The Dagger and the Coin is Daniel Abraham’s take on traditional epic fantasy. Regarding The Dragon’s Path specifically, the novel brought to mind elements of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt, and Abraham’s very own Long Price Quartet, minus the melodrama and Oriental-flavored setting.

FORMAT/INFO: The Dragon’s Path is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, an Entr’acte, and 45 chapters with each chapter designated by the name of a main character. Also includes a Map, an Interview with Daniel Abraham, and an excerpt from The King’s Blood, the second volume in The Dagger and the Coin. Narration is in the third person via Captain Marcus Wester; Geder Palliako; Cithrin Bel Sarcour; Dawson Kalliam, the Baron of Osterling Fells; Dawson’s wife, Clara Annalie Kalliam; and the Apostate. The Dragon’s Path is the first volume in The Dagger and the Coin — a projected five-volume series. April 7, 2011/April 21, 2011 marks the North American/UK Trade Paperback publication of The Dragon’s Path via Orbit Books.

ANALYSIS: There are many reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Daniel Abraham’s writing, but the quality I most admire about the author is his versatility. Fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, urban fantasy, multi-volume series, standalone novels, short fiction, collaborations with other authors, shared worlds, mosaic novels, comic books… Daniel Abraham has taken on all of these different formats and subgenres and done so successfully. Daniel Abraham can now add traditional epic fantasy to his resume with The Dagger and the Coin, a promising new series kicked off by The Dragon’s Path

In The Dragon’s Path, Daniel Abraham introduces readers to a secondary world once ruled by dragons, but is now populated by thirteen different races of humanity: Firstblood, Cinnae, Tralgu, Southling, Timzinae, Yemmu, Haunadam, Dartinae, Kurtadam, Jasuru, Raushadam, Haaverkin and the Drowned. Unfortunately, world-building was never one of Daniel Abraham’s strong suits, and it continues to be a weakness in The Dragon’s Path, especially regarding the thirteen races of humanity. At first, I was intrigued by the different races and hoped they would bring something new to the table the way Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Insect-Kinden does in the Shadows of the Apt. However, so little information is provided about the races over the course of the novel that I never even got a sense of how these races differed from one another apart from superficial traits — the Cinnae are “reed-thin” and “snow-pale”; the Tralgu have “hound-like ears”; Kurtadam possess “oily, bead-adorned fur”; Jasuru are “bronze-scaled” with pointed teeth; Timzinae are “chitinous”; the Yemmu have jaw tusks; Dartinae are “glow-eyed” and “hairless”; etc. — let alone finding anything that actually added value or uniqueness to the book. Thankfully, Daniel Abraham has posted a taxonomy on the different races which is much more informational, although it would have been better if the information had been included in the novel itself.

Compounding the world-building problem is the novel’s lack of history, religion, mythology, etc. You would think with thirteen races to choose from, The Dragon’s Path would be rich with diverse cultures, religious beliefs and myths, but that’s not the case. Not only does the author focus primarily on Firstbloods — the clay “from which all humanity arose” — but the kingdom of Antea with its nobles and court politics is disappointingly familiar, while religion, history and mythology hardly factor in the novel at all. There’s also very little magic in the book, which I’m okay with except what magic can be found in The Dragon’s Path is unimaginative and a little boring — being able to determine truth from lies and bending a person’s will in a manner akin to the Force.

World-building issues aside, there’s a lot to like about The Dragon’s Path starting with the characters. At first glance, Captain Marcus Wester, Geder Palliako, Cithrin Bel Sarcour and Dawson Kalliam seem like conventional fantasy stereotypes — there’s the veteran soldier haunted by his past, the pudgy noble ridiculed for his incompetence and the “roundness of his belly”, the young orphan who is coming of age, and the loyal noble who believes in traditionalism — but there’s much more to these characters than initial appearances. Especially Geder and Cithrin, the two most fascinating individuals in the novel. The former because of his unpredictability and the dangerous tightrope he walks between good and evil. The latter because of her unique skills as a banker and the trials endured on her journey to adulthood. And both of them because of their remarkable transformations from the characters introduced at the beginning of the book to the very different individuals found at the end of the novel.

Clara Annalie Kalliam, Dawson Kalliam’s wife, is another fascinating character even though she only has two chapters in the book, but hopefully she will receive more face time in the sequel. On the opposite side of the coin, Marcus Wester and Dawson Kalliam are the novel’s weakest characters, offering the least amount of growth and development, but even they have their redeeming qualities. Marcus for example, has a very complicated, but intriguing relationship with Cithrin, while Dawson is portrayed as a good guy even though his traditional beliefs seem outdated and misguided. Then there’s the Apostate who is largely a mystery, but factors heavily in the book as a supporting character. The rest of the supporting cast is shallow and one-dimensional, but my biggest complaint is how all of the main characters are Firstbloods apart from the half-Cinnae Cithrin. As a whole though, characterization is definitely an area of strength in The Dragon’s Path, much the way it was in Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet.

Story-wise, The Dragon’s Path is full of recognizable fantasy tropes like a caravan, bandits, an acting troupe, a girl disguised as a boy, king’s hunts, duels, a seer, prophecy, coups, etc., while the politics and intrigue of Antea’s court reminded me of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet for all of its familiarity, the story is still a compelling one, highlighted by unpredictable twists and interesting subplots like the one involving Cithrin, the Medean Bank and economics. At the same time, the story is stamped with Daniel Abraham’s own unique personality — methodical pacing, the swift passage of time, drama emphasized over action, self-contained subplots — all elements that can be found in the author’s Long Price Quartet. The bigger picture meanwhile remains a mystery after The Dragon’s Path is over, but no doubt it will involve the spider goddess, the Apostate and the Medean Bank. Hopefully it will also involve more of the thirteen races of humanity, and perhaps even the dragons — or at least their legacy — will have a larger role to play in future volumes.

As far as the writing, Daniel Abraham’s prose is more straightforward and less elegant than it was in The Long Price Quartet, but the author’s performance overall remains skilled and polished, led of course by Abraham’s characterization and clever plotting.

CONCLUSION: The Dragon’s Path may suffer from shallow world-building and concepts that are underutilized like the thirteen different races of humanity, but because of main characters who are interesting and well-developed and a story that consistently surprises despite its familiarity, The Dragon’s Path is a very solid start to Daniel Abraham’s new fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin. A series that I believe possesses the potential to appeal to a wide range of readers, including fans of traditional epic fantasy, fantasy that challenges the genre’s conventions, and Daniel Abraham’s own particular brand of fantasy. From a personal standpoint, I did not find The Dragon’s Path as engrossing as A Shadow In Summer, the opening volume in Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet. However, considering how much The Long Price Quartet improved as the series progressed, I’m confident that The Dagger and the Coin will follow a similar trajectory, and excitedly look forward to experiencing the rest of Daniel Abraham’s ambitious new saga as it unfolds.

~Robert Thompson

Daniel Abraham is a very busy writer. Under the pen name M.L.N. Hanover, he is writing a series of excellent urban fantasies about Jayné Heller, a young woman who has inherited a dubious way of life from her uncle. As James S.A. Corey, he and Ty Franck are writing a space opera series. Under his own name, Abraham broke into publishing in 2006 with the Long Price Quartet, a refreshingly nontraditional fantasy series set in a world with an Asian flavor. Now Abraham has embarked on a more traditional series entitled The Dagger and the Coin, the first book of which is The Dragon’s Path.

The Dragon’s Path is set in a vaguely western European milieu, complete with kings and castles and squabbling nobles. It also partakes of the ruthlessness of the viewpoint characters in the work of writers like Joe Abercrombie and Richard K. Morgan. Yet The Dragon’s Path is its own creature, resonating with the fantasy genre but playing its own chord. So, for instance, one of the principal characters is a dreamy intellectual, a feckless soldier, and a brutal ruler, and somehow Abraham makes them all blend seamlessly into a single complicated man, one the reader will simultaneously love and hate. Abraham makes this character’s motivations completely understandable, even while reprehensible. It’s a terrific job of characterization.

The frame for the tale is about an apostate from the religion of a spider god, but for the bulk of the book the introduction seems to belong to a different novel. Instead, we are first introduced to Captain Marcus Wester, an honorable military man who was once a hero but now takes on work as hired security. He has a problem: he’s been hired to guard a caravan, but doesn’t have sufficient men to do the job. He finds a solution in a traveling troupe of actors, who can act as security personnel as well as they can act as kings, queens, lovers and enemies.

Next we meet Sir Geder Palliako, Heir of the Viscount of Rivenhalm, who is the complicated man discussed above. He is such a dreamy intellectual when we meet him that he is easily pranked by his fellow soldiers, who decide he needs some toughening up — and particularly, therefore, needs his books taken away from him. You can goad a man only so far, though, and we get the first big hints of Geder’s resentment, which leads to his cruelty, in these first few pages with him.

Cithrin Bel Sarcour, Ward of the Medean Bank, is one of the few female characters with an active role in this novel. She is young and untested, but about to be subject to very difficult times — and rise to the occasion, at that. Her introduction is followed by a chapter about Dawson Kalliam, Baron of Osterling Fells, who is at least as complicated as Palliako. He is written in many ways as a petty man of petty jealousies, but also as a king’s confidant with only the king’s interests at heart. He is ruthless but fair, loves his lands, his son and his wife (who is one of the smart, strong women who populate this book, though mostly in the background), and plays politics with a relish that seems designed more to create havoc than to fix problems.

These characters come together and break apart again in many ways throughout the course of the novel, like a tapestry being partially unraveled and rewoven, making new patterns appear that weren’t obvious from the start. Geder is used and uses; Cithrin takes advantage of an opportunity; Dawson manipulates the king, but only for the king’s own good. Each character acts in his or her own self-interest, and none seems to understand what he or she is creating out of the other individuals that slip in and out of their lives. These characters grow and change in the course of this book. Most chillingly, the spiders we read about in the introduction start to play a huge, though still partially hidden, role as the novel goes on. Will the kingdom survive, or fall to the squabbles of petty nobles? Will the Medean Bank be destroyed, and Cithrin along with it? Will Geder outgrow his naivete and use his brains for something practical, or will he be mired in his dreams and resentments? What are the interests of the spider god? These questions are unresolved at the close of this first book in Abraham’s series, but the concerns of all the characters seem poised to grow larger and ready to deal with a more cataclysmic threat in the forthcoming second book, The King’s Blood. The Dragon’s Path is a promising beginning to a promising series, with characters written to be far more real than the usual archetype. You’ll turn the last page looking forward to more.

~Terry Weyna

Daniel Abraham has kicked off a terrific new epic series with The Dragon’s Path. I’ve come to realize that I love “EPIC.” The bigger, the more dramatic, the more flawed characters whose existences connect, orbit and intertwine in more surprising ways… the better.

The story revolves around a small handful of characters who live in an ancient world populated by a myriad of diverse human-like races. Abraham shifts focus between each of his key characters as he builds a world that’s clearly different than our own, but very recognizable in its sword-and-leather medieval-like inspiration.

One can’t help but see the clear influences of George R.R. Martin in the story. Abraham has collaborated with the Game of Thrones author and pays enjoyable tribute to the modern epic master.

The flawed main characters are respectively an orphan, a widower, a social outsider, and an influential nobleman who’s very focused on keeping the ‘natural’ social order of societal hierarchy. The characters are developed slowly, and drawn smartly and subtlety. While the action is limited in this first book, Abraham builds a magnificently rich world of intrigue and drama, all driven by the brilliantly realistic and complex core characters.

I also love the fact that the elements of supernatural fantasy are very limited. There’s no real magic, though you get a sense of something “more” running through the threaded experiences of the story. Dragons play a key role in the history and mythology in The Dragon’s Path. The dragon lorem, though, is just that: a heavy influence on the history of Abraham’s world, but a thing of the past.

The story is epic in its scope and the magnitude of the plot lines. It’s not quite as large and sprawling as The Game of Thrones, but the themes and atmosphere are similar.

If you enjoy that kind of depth and heaviness, then I strongly recommend this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to Abraham’s second in the series.

~Jason Golomb

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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One comment

  1. Hello,
    Thank-you for letting me know the other pen names Daniel Abraham uses so I can look-up more of his work. I have read a small part of Dragon’s Path and enjoyed it very much. I need to get back to it soon. I am very encouraged because you enjoyed it also. By the way I like Fan Lit very much.

    Take Care,

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