Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review of "The Price of Spring" by Daniel Abraham

The Price of Spring, the fourth and final book in Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet, wraps up the series in sublime, mature style.  Along with seeing the arcs of favorite characters come to satisfying, if not bittersweet, ends, the state to which the land is brought—a position wholly different than when the series began—is stabilized.  But not as one might predict.  The details of how they arrive at this stability are what make the novel thematically the strongest of the series and a poignant conclusion to the tale.  

Following the pattern set by the previous three books, The Price of Spring picks up events roughly fifteen years after An Autumn War.  The men of Galt and the women of the Khaimete remain sterile, but the political situation has not devolved into further war.  Balasar Gice is still an advisor to Otah, now emperor, and together they attempt to find a way to bring the social situation between the two lands into a more defined and peaceful state.  But a lot of hostility obstructing their efforts, remains.  Cultural prejudices fuel a hatred that prevents Galt women from bearing children with Khai men and vice versa.  By appealing directly to the women of Galt—something never before done in their male dominated world, Otah hopes to build a social bridge.  Maati, however, takes a different route in seeking to right the wrongs he committed, and now trains women as poets, hoping that a women’s perspective on binding can heal the hurt of the land.  Enmity against all of these actions existing from top to bottom, the situation of the land remains as much in doubt as ever, war threatening to break out again.

The situation tense, the manner in which the characters resolve their differences is not without its antagonism and violence in The Price of Spring.  There is, however, a large difference in scope as compared to An Autumn War.  The conflicts of The Price of Spring bear much more in common with A Shadow in Summer, that is to say, are more personal and related to characters’ inter-relationships.  Thus, those hoping that An Autumn War started an upward curve that would move the overall narrative toward a grand climax will be disappointed.  Far more subtle and understated, there is a strong climax, but one which resolves character interests first, political and social, second.  No swords are drawn en masse.

Compared to previous volumes, only a few new characters are added in The Price of Spring.  A couple of female poets are introduced and play important roles, as do the wife of a Galt emissary and her daughter.  But mostly the story focuses on characters readers have grown comfortable with.  Otah and Maati once again feature the heaviest, as do Otah’s children, Kanat and Eaih.  And though scenes shift around the Khaimate, the majority is situated in Saraykeht (the setting of A Shadow in Summer), giving the series a familiar as well as circular feel.

But where A Shadow in Summer was light on fantasy, the supernatural plays a prominent role in The Price of Spring.  Though still a minor aspect overall, its effects are far-reaching (as readers learned in An Autumn War), particularly if existing in the hands of someone unprepared to deal with the andat’s conniving ways.  With Maati attempting to create a “women’s poetry”, the use of power and magic is an integral part of the narrative and a strong commentary on women in society (especially given the role Eiah plays as both doctor and poet).  Abraham should be commended for the inclusion and development of feminist themes in a series read by those not normally encountering such concepts. (The latter part of this statement I base on that fact that George R.R. Martin quotes provide cover copy, the book is marketed as epic fantasy, and that samurai-esque warriors grace the covers of my Orbit omnibus editions—all facets of fantasy not well known for feminist presentiments.)

As discussed in my reviews of the three previous books, the main problem of the series is plotting, particularly with regard to the lack of a natural feel to the flow of events.  Abraham has story goals, but does not always take the most natural path bringing characters to those points.  Events sometimes feeling forced or overly melodramatic, I will not expand further on this except to mention it continues in this, the final volume. 
In the end, readers will either be pleasantly surprised or disappointed by the manner in which The Price of Spring concludes the series.  Those who are expecting a grand escalation of battles and action will balk, while those who have recognized and appreciated how Abraham has developed the softer side of fantasy will fall in love, particularly the manner in which social concerns, including women’s issues, come to the forefront.  Thematically, this is the strongest book of the Quartet and brings to a close the lives of those characters Abraham has invested time into in wholesome fashion, Otah and Maati’s storylines particularly touching.

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