Monday, July 6, 2020

Review of The Spider's War by Daniel Abraham

If anything, Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger & Coin series has continually rewarded patience. The first novel, The Dragon’s Path was something of a barrier to entry (despite its dramatic sounding name). Abraham taking his time to establish character and setting, setting the juicier stuff of plot aside for later, it’s possible the novel put off a few readers from the series who would otherwise enjoy it very much. For those who stuck around, things just kept getting better and better. Revealing Basrahip’s true mission, uncovering Inye, seeing Geder’s character crumble before your eyes, Marcus and Kit making their grand discoveries—character and setting continually strengthen, while the stakes are raised each and every book as those juicy bits are fed into the story, ramping up the tension and enjoyment. This is all a long winded way of saying: The Spider’s War (2015), final book in the series, brings the fireworks readers have thus far been led to believe would be the reward at the end of, dare I say it, the dragon’s path, just perhaps in an accelerated fashion that may not belie the pace of the prior novels.

The Spider’s War is the big splash. It is the promise, delivered. It is the expected clash, resolved. And while most if not all the devices of the series are indeed generic fantasy, the resolution of some characters’ arcs hits the feels given their development. Like any good opera coming to an end, there are moments that have the potential to impact readers as such. I would guess most writers would say that’s a good pay off.

Geder has been the most realistically divisive character of The Dagger & Coin series, bar none. In The Spider’s War, this comes to a head—in socially sensitive fashion, interestingly. And there are other likely/potentially divisive events and transitions that will appease and/or irk the reader. Concluding volumes in fantasy series are often contentious, and this proves no different. If anything can be said, however, it’s that Abraham remains largely true to the series’ form to date. Nothing really comes out of left field that wasn’t hinted at, but certainly some will say second base pulls a trick or two.

This being the final book in the series, I’d like to vent about something nagging me since book two or three: the series’ title. While power and money certainly play strong roles in the movement and shifting of characters and events, it’s quite possible to argue that changing beliefs sits alongside or usurps those ideals as top play maker. Whether it’s in one’s self (e.g. Kit or Cithrin), or in others (e.g. Clara), or in a concept (e.g. Geder and the rest of the spider’s followers), belief shaped the most fundamental grounds upon which characters made the majority of game-changing decisions. And yet it gets no love in the series’ title. The argument can even be taken one step further to say that the contrast between those who placed their faith in people and those in concepts eroded one of the major pillars on which Geder and Basrahip built their empire—the ‘dagger’ in the series’ title. That is, by dogmatically sticking to a belief, they undermined their own direction, religion the power, not the military. The nail in the coffin is, it isn’t until the fourth and fifth book that the ‘coin’ comes into play. Abraham builds said backstory, but it isn’t without a bit of handwavery, also.

In the end, The Spider’s War does what a lot of epic fantasy series have trouble doing: presenting a Goldilocks grand finale. Neither too big (i.e. introducing the kitchen sink of epic fantasy devices just to have big bang) or too small (i.e. taking the series in a new direction just to be different or undermine expectations), The Spider’s War is just right. This means, like many aspects of the series to date, there are some outcomes that are predictable—not predictable in the detailed sense that the reader already knows before reading what will happen, rather in the “I have a good feel of this character or this story element and can guess such and such a general thing will happen.” It also means there are a couple of surprising results. Thankfully not toying with readers’ expectations for ha-ha’s sake (staring at you Joe Abercrombie), Abraham stays true to his characters, not springing anything on readers that isn’t organic to the series. All in all, the novel closes what is sure to go down as an underrated and overshadowed yet worthwhile epic fantasy series. Abraham put the lion’s share into character and character interaction, and this, the series’ closer, issues a roar—not a mighty roar, but a roar.


  1. I thought the first book was alright, but in the end didn't pursue, as I thought it a bit too generic/transparent. I shall have to reconsider, as I loved his debut series, The Long Price Quartet. I'm not sure what I would make of those today, but 5 years ago I was absolutely enamored with those 4 books - to the extent Leviathan Wakes and The Dragon's Path were huge letdowns. The Long Price had an originality and command that's rare, so as you seem to be on an Abraham binge lately, do consider them, I'd love to read your thoughts.

    1. I have read all them - well, not all. I'm abotu halfway through the Expanse books. In terms of originality, I would say that the Long Price is slightly better than the Dagger & Coin series. But in terms of technique and narrative control, the Dagger & the Coin is superior. It's difficult to compare with the Expanse given it's a cooperative effort, and hard to distinguish where Abraham's effort ends and Franck's begins...