Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review of "An Autumn War" by Daniel Abraham

An Autumn War is the third book in Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet, and when compared to the other three books, contains the most action and plot movement. The Galts, having made semi-successful inroads into the Khaimete in the previous books, now make a harder push with new tools on hand to get the job done. As such, several new characters are added, new areas of the map are explored, and a handful of major surprises are sprung on readers, keeping suspense high. But is the novel an improvement on the series? Some will argue yes, others, no.

An Autumn War picks up matters roughly fifteen years after the events of A Betrayal in Winter. The story opens with a weary Galt general, Balasar Gice, returning to his homeland after having successfully stolen several Khai books of andat lore and philosophy. Capturing a rogue poet several years later, they hope to create an andat of their own that will aid their takeover of the Khaimete. Otah is still Khai Machi, and he and Kiyan now have two children, the headstrong girl, Eiah, and sickly son, Kanat. Maati has remained in Machi as an assistant to Cehmai and is still performing his own research how to capture an andat. But his work is interrupted one day with the arrival of he and Otah’s former lover, Liat, and their son, Nayit. Major surprises appearing every fifty pages or so, the Galt’s advance on the Khaimete is full of suspense and concludes in major scene that will satisfy all who’ve thought the series was soft thus far.

For those annoyed that Abraham has done little to explore the more magical side of things—the binding of the andat, fear not; there are several scenes involving the djinni-like spirits, including Maati’s studies as the need for a new andat presses harder and harder. These scenes, handled with subtlety by Abraham, cannot help but satisfy the fantasy junkie complaining about the lack of the supernatural in the series.

And Abraham adds several new and important characters. The afore-mentioned Gice plays a strong role in the novel and is a well-thought out character—when it comes to personality, that is. His sensitive side not exactly matching the quest for power and glory he’s on, readers will nevertheless sympathize with his reactions and ideas if they ignore the larger portent of his behavior. Liat’s child Nayit, along with Otah and Kiyan’s children, Eaih and Kanat, also play important roles in the story—an unsurprising fact given Abraham is writing a saga.

Consistency high, Abraham shows little signs of either improving or devolving his writing talents. The problems that affected the previous books return in An Autumn War. Plot motivation, for example, blips its warning light: too much authorial control, not enough natural flow to events. Likewise, plot pacing, or perhaps better described as: narrative description identifying plot pacing, is suspect. Kudos to Abraham for setting himself the challenge of avoiding the direct use of time markers (the night candle is a great example of this). But using the seasons is a difficult tool by which to measure the passage of time. Events particularly toward the climax show a loss of control without time markers: Otah is here one scene and there another, yet the Galts show no progress in any direction. This is not a confusing problem, just a technical one.

Another problem is one that will not go away: melodrama. On one hand Abraham keeps the suspense high, but on the other, many standard clichés of historical drama and mainstream fiction emerge. Without spoiling the story, suffice to say there are a couple of eye-rolling scenes, e.g. Nayit’s scene at the climax, the andat’s choice of price, and others. Unoriginal, they serve only to escalate emotions, no more.

In the end, An Autumn War, advances—and I mean, quickly—the story Abraham has been telling thus far. Events expanding to Galtic lands, the titual war is waged with death on all sides. All the familiar faces return, and a few new ones are added. Readers who enjoyed the previous books will not be disappointed by the third installment. Those who didn’t like the lack of action and magic will be especially surprised to find both existing in larger quantities in this, what feels like the apex of the story arc, of the Long Price.

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