Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review of "A Betrayal in Winter" by Daniel Abraham

A Betrayal in Winter picks up events in the Khaimete 15 years after A Shadow in Summer.  Otah is a courier and once again living under the name Itani.  Maati, having failed to uphold his duties in the first novel, has spent the years living in shame under the roof of the Dai-kvo, studying bits of lore and avoiding the public eye.  Events quickly escalate, however.  The Khai Machi, the father who exiled Otah, is dying and his recognized sons have begun the rounds of fratricide that decide who will ascend the throne.  One son dying in mysterious circumstances beyond simple family feud, Maati is sent by the Dai-kvo to investigate the murder under the guise of a scholar.  The turmoil that erupts from this event, however, may have larger consequences for the Machi and Khaimete than either Maati or Otah are prepared to handle.

Abraham introduces some interesting new characters in A Betrayal in Winter.  Like Saraykeht, the city of Machi has its own poet and andat, Cehmai and Stone-Made-Soft, whose skills keep the mines, foundries, and blacksmiths busy with metals and jewels.  Cehmai much younger and of sounder mind and body than Heshai, he maintains a stable degree of control over his andat.  Threatening to distract him from his duties, however, is the only daughter of House Machi: the ambitious Idaan.  Secretly coveting the throne for herself in a land where women claim no rights to power, Idaan plots and schemes in a devious manner toward realizing her goals.  Events focused almost entirely in the city of Machi, an assortment of other important secondary characters appear to fill out the story.  Emotional content once again the focus, Abraham continues giving these characters a fair shake when it comes to presenting them realistically (albeit it at times melodramatically), the facet which is the strength of the series.

Where the first novel in the series possessed a few minor problems, A Betrayal in Winter, unfortunately, possesses a few more.  A Shadow in Summer applied a few overused devices (e.g. love triangle), but generally remained tightly plotted save a few holes (e.g. why not simply assassinate the poet rather than using an overly-complex plan involving every member of the plot?).  A Betrayal in Winter features many larger holes, holes disguised with only the thinnest of excuses.  There is one scene wherein a covert rescue action is planned.  But who plans the rescue and their hope for the result are highly incongruous.  “Let’s spring from prison the person we want to kill, and then kill them.”  The readers asks: why not simply kill them in prison?  This seems a much easier route, not to mention does not provide the character a chance to escape, which of course, they do.  But how they escape is even more suspect.  Characters that would seem to have little motivation to be involved in the situation, suddenly are.  And the examples continue.  But I digress.

In the end, those who enjoyed A Shadow in Summer will almost certainly enjoy the second volume.  Abraham’s style is consistent with the first; he develops events carefully, pays attention to the little details of life (e.g. food, clothes, poses, etc.), and takes the overall story to the next level, not to mention keeping the world fresh.  The overall setting, moved from the Mediterranean Saraykeht to the mountain domain of Machi, is expanded, giving readers a better understanding of the larger political/social picture.  Like George R.R. Martin, Abraham is unafraid of killing main characters, which gives the story a sense of unpredictability fueling the suspense, and as a result, enjoyability.  Beyond the standard themes of myth, the Long Price Quartet (I would say “saga”) remains focused on entertainment, character interaction, and the events of a kingdom. 

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