Review: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

The marketing team for The Dragon’s Path sure knows their audience.  The cover of the book bears what might be the ultimate epic fantasy endorsement: George RR Martin calling it “everything I look for in a fantasy.”  Jo Walton at Tor.com called it “exactly what I’ve been wanting to read.”  With endorsements like that, what was I supposed to do, not buy this book?

You might wonder if I’m setting you up for an ironic reversal, if I’m going to tell you that Martin and Walton steered me wrong.  I’ll end the suspense now: they didn’t.  The Dragon’s Path is one of those incredibly absorbing books that make you take a deep breath and do a double-take at reality when you put them down for a break. It’s philosophically sophisticated, politically intricate, smart about finances, and grounds all of its high-level machinations in well-rounded, fascinating characters.

In the world of The Dragon’s Path, there are thirteen races of humanity.  “Firstbloods” are humans as we know them; Cinnae are white-pale and slender; Dartinae have glowing red eyes; Yemmu and Tralgu have tusks.  In the Free Cities on the south of the continent these races mix more or less comfortably, but the northern nation of Antea is proudly Firstblood-only and looking to expand its power.

The Dragon’s Path focuses mainly on four characters.  When the book begins, legendary soldier Marcus Wester finds himself without the mercenary troops he needs to complete a seemingly simple job guarding a caravan.  Without that job Marcus can’t leave Vanai — and he knows that the city is the target of an invasion threat from the Anteans.  Teenager Cithrin bel Sarcour is half-Cinnae, half-Firstblood and a ward of the Medean Bank in Vanai.  Like Marcus, the proprietors of the bank can see that war is coming, and when an encounter with the Prince’s guards leaves one of their number dead, Cithrin is asked to take on a dangerous task.

Meanwhile, in Antea, nobleman Dawson Kalliam fears the growing power of the Farmer’s Council and is baffled that his childhood friend King Simeon seems to be giving more and more power to Kalliam’s populist rivals.  Finally, Antean nobleman Geder Palliako is a soldier with an unfashionable fondness for “speculative essay” (what we would call philosophy).  Palliako is not well-suited to the soldiering life and is the butt of many of his company’s jokes; how he deals with his humiliation and anger is the most startling character arc in the book.

Oh, yes — and in the prologue, we learn some very disturbing things about a spider goddess’s plans for the world.

The Dragon’s Path has a somewhat leisurely pace, but Abraham’s writing is so readable that it’s impossible to feel bored.  I enjoyed spending time in the company of the characters — or, in the case of characters I didn’t like, I found myself fascinated by their motives and anxious to learn what they would do next.  I also loved the way banking was incorporated into the story.  Yes, banking.  Investments, the movement of money, and the importance of war financing all play a role in the plot.  I’m not usually fascinated by money talk but I thought Abraham used banks to great effect in constructing his world.

I do have one caveat about this book: it’s very clearly the first in a series.  This book is about introducing us to the major players in a coming crisis, and while Cithrin, Marcus, Geder, and Dawson all have changed circumstances by the end of The Dragon’s Path, this isn’t precisely a self-contained story.  I will also note that The Dragon’s Path has a learning curve.  It took me a while to sort out the cities and kingdoms and political factions, so don’t be afraid to consult the map at the beginning of the book for a bit of help.

Now, my dilemma: do I pick up the second book in The Dagger and the Coin, The King’s Bloodand possibly get myself into a waiting-with-bated-breath-for-book-3 situation?  Or should I switch to Abraham’s highly praised Long Price Quartet?  Decisions, decisions.

Rating: Buy it

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