Best. Quest. Ending. Ever.
If that isn’t enough, then keep reading to see all the other reasons to continue with Daniel Abraham’s THE DAGGER AND THE COIN series, via book three — The Tyrant’s Law. But really — Best. Ever.
As in the prior two books (The Dragon’s Path and The King’s Blood), Abraham tells his story through several focused POVs, the four main characters getting pretty much the same 10-12 POV chapters (the novel is bookended by two other characters’ POVs). In the Antea capital city of Camnipol, Lord Regent Geder Palliako continues, under the influence of the Spider Goddess’ high priest, to turn Antea into both an internal police state and an aggressive, genocidal Empire eager to gobble up its neighbors. Meanwhile, Clara, the disgraced wife of the former Baron Dawson Kalliam (executed after plotting against the Regent in the last novel), is still working to bring Geder down, though she’s working with a lot fewer resources now and must also take care to keep her children out of her machinations. One of Antea’s threatened neighbors is Suddapal, which just happens to be where Cithrin is apprenticed to Magistra Isadau, head of that city’s Medean Bank. Finally, far, far away, Captain Marcus and Kit, apostate former-priest of the Spider Goddess cult, are on a lengthy quest to gain a magic sword and then sneak into the cult’s mountain fastness and use the sword to kill the Spider Goddess herself.
The Tyrant’s Law has everything that has made this series consistently excellent and it makes three out of three that I’ve read in a single sitting. Abraham’s prose, while not as elegantly lyrical as his first fantasy series (THE LONG PRICE QUARTET, which should be on everyone’s shelves), is precise, fluid, intelligent without being showy, and always smoothly, perfectly matched to its tone and content, whether it be employed to convey humor, suspense, fear, etc.
The characters remain a strong point, continuing to deepen and develop, sometimes in subtly surprising ways, as the series continues. Many find new facets to themselves, new capabilities, or are awakened to some less positive aspects of themselves. What’s nice to see as well is they do so in different ways, dependent not only on their plot circumstances (the usual method), but also in their life experience. Too often we see characters of different ages, races, genders, responding to the forces in their lives in the exact same way. Abraham, however, refuses to take that lazy path. Here, the older characters, such as Marcus and Clara, have to both deal with not just past events from their lives, but also from past behaviors and modes of thinking that they’ve formed over their years. And they have to learn how to integrate those past modes of thought into their changed lives, whether that means adjusting them, sticking to them, or dropping them entirely (not an easy process).
Clara, especially, faces this issue, having to reshape herself to meet both her new socioeconomic status (greatly reduced due to being the wife to a disgraced traitor) and her newfound personal status (no longer a society wife but someone free to act wholly on her own, for good or ill consequences).
Cithrin and Geder, meanwhile, don’t have the years of life experience that Marcus and Clara do, and so they must navigate their new lives in much different, and often much more halting, insecure fashion. We’ve seen the Cithrin-as-apprentice-with-lessons to learn plot point before, but it works here because some lessons are different and some lessons need to keep being learned (or be re-learned). It’s also an interesting and uncomfortable shift for her, to go from heading the bank in her former city to being an apprentice in an unfamiliar land amidst an unfamiliar people. Geder is also not wholly comfortable in his role as Lord Regent, what with the attempts on his life (both real and not-so-real), his changing relationship with the young prince, a new rival for his head priest’s attention, his sometime-bemoaning of his past days as a scholar, and his under-developed set of emotions. Abraham’s portrayal of him, the way we watch a monster develop out of an often likable character with seemingly good intentions, blind to his own monstrosity, is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this novel, and the entire series.
As is the manner in which Antea falls beneath Geder’s (or the Spider Goddess’) spell. It doesn’t take the keenest eye to spot both historical and contemporary analogues in Antea’s transformation: its scapegoating of a particular race (the insectile Timzinae), the careful use of language (bugs, roach) to turn the populace against them, development of labor and internment camps, the ease with which the general population allows this to happen, whether by actively joining with it or simply staying silent. We’ve seen all of this before, and it sends true chills down the spine to see it in this world.
It’s also a mark of Abraham’s skill and integrity as a writer that he doesn’t make this easy, doesn’t simply put the racist lines in the mouths of his worst characters. Cithrin, for example, often thought of herself as quite the “liberal” when it came to dealing with other races, but when she finds herself the clearly visible minority in her new land, her view of herself (and others) begins to change, a point sharply made by a seemingly throwaway bit of plot dealing with the name of one of the characters who has been with us throughout all three books.
This same kind of complexity enters into even them most traditional-seeming of the plot lines — Marcus and Kit’s quest to kill the Spider Goddess — the “Dark Lord” behind all this scheming and warfare:
“I [Kit] can’t permit this destruction. Whatever the price, I can’t permit it.”
“Destruction’s inevitable,” Marcus said, and spat. “You do know we’re about to destroy Antea? If you’re right and their success is all based on your incarnated goddess, when we take her away, we’ll take their successes away with them, and they’re in the middle of a fight. Soldiers of Antea are just men. Some of them are bastards and some are not. Some have children and wives. It’s not their fault your old pals came and made their homeland into a tool for a spider, but they’ll die because of it.”
“Or, I suppose, kill for it if we don’t… I don’t see there’s any choice though,” Kit said.
“Isn’t… Just didn’t want you to get your hopes up about this being clean.”
So much for “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and let’s all go home.
Strong, complex, developing characters. A layered plot that plays with standard genre tropes and offers up a level of serious depth. Precise, silky-smooth prose that sweeps you effortlessly along. All this and a good heaping of humor. In The Tyrant’s Law, Daniel Abraham continues to show why he should be at the top of anyone’s reading list.