The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham

(2012-11-27)

Book Two of The Dagger and the Coin        
http://www.danielabraham.com          
Published by Orbit Books       
Trade Paperback, May 2012   
ISBN13: 978-0-316-08077-4  

Cithrin Bel Sarcour, Master Kit, Marcus Wester, Dawson Kalliam, and Geder Palliako have moved on a bit from the tumultuous events depicted in The Dragon’s Path. Geder is firmly entrenched as advisor and guardian of young prince Aster; Cithrin is working for the Medean bank as she longed to do for so long, though not in quite the capacity she envisioned; Marcus is her bodyguard and also something of an advisor, Dawson is the captain of the royal guard; and Kit left his troupe to spread the word about the growing threat of his Spider Goddess.  Abraham has added to the mix of point-of-view or ‘chapter’ character with Clara Kalliam; Dawson’s wife and mother of Jorey Dawson, a young man who once held a close friendship with Geder.

The King’s Blood builds on the strengths and foundation Abraham has thus far displayed in The Dragon’s Path, the first installment of The Dagger and the Coin. The races and politics of these divergent children of the dragon can be seen in greater detail; the threat hinted at in the first volume of the Spider Goddess gains more traction; the conspiracy against the nation of Antea becomes more of a plot element. As characters discover the deeper conspiracy taking root, it isn’t always easy to uncloud one’s judgment to find the heart of the conspiracy.  Small thoughts lead to larger decisions, which can lead to war. Something Geder, Dawson (and his family) learns as The King’s Blood builds momentum with each page and chapter.

Abraham is doing something very fascinating with most of his characters, but the one which I find the most intriguing is Geder Palliako. Through the eyes of most of the other characters, he is cast in a negative light ranging from as insecure to immature manboy to a dark manipulator to a fool to a coward.  Through Geder’s eyes, Abraham evokes a great deal of sympathy for his plight, that ultimately, Geder seems to be trying to do what is best for the Prince under his watch and the land the Prince rules through him. His motivations come across as plausible outgrowths, particularly the less-than-savory aspects of his persona – his frustration, his anger, his jealousy, and his inadequacies.  I’m not sure quite what Abraham is building with Geder, it is possible he is being whittled into something of a Big Bad for the series. On those aspects, I find a great deal of similarity between Geder and Walter White of Breaking Bad. Both characters are initially meek and weak, both characters struggle to overcome their fears in what might not be the best of fashions, and through various developments grow out of that shadow into something much more menacing. An important stage in Geder’s development is his ultimate reaction to Killian as seen through the eyes of Cithrin.

With each book Abraham publishes and I read (The King’s Blood being the fifth or sixth book by him I’ve read this year depending on how you count Caliban’s War), he displays a great and growing facility of creating and developing female characters who are both strong and fully realized. More importantly, these ladies are defined by themselves – their own actions, thoughts and motives – and not by the men who surround them.  Cithrin exemplifies this to the highest degree; her cunning and drive have led her to become the face of the Porte Olivia’s branch of the Medean bank.  This is not to say she eschews advise or relationships with the men with whom she comes into contact (Geder and Marcus in particular), but her strength as a character and person is not dependent on the men. The newer (and potentially more important) female Abraham brings into the spotlight in The King’s Blood is Clara, wife of Killian Dawson. While, by her marriage to Killian, much of her role in the world of Antea was defined by him, as the story progresses, Clara moves beyond the large shadow cast by her husband into a woman at the head of her family with great intelligence, strength, and resolve.

What must be clear about The King’s Blood is that, while part of a greater whole of The Dagger and the Coin, it is by no means a place holder in a series. There’s a definite resolution of elements introduced in the early chapters and Abraham skillfully moves characters through a line of development that is rewarding while hinting at future developments leading to great anticipation for the third and future volumes of The Dagger and the Coin.

Epic Fantasy has some expected ingredients – royalty and threats to the throne; dark religious/magic conspiracies; grizzled old guard warriors; up-and-coming youthful characters rising from relative obscurity to positions of power; romance that is not viewed particularly favorably by outsiders/people of the court.  The notes are familiar, they are successful; these notes are why readers return to the genre again and again.  When those notes are struck well, with precision, and with a flair that is a slightly different, yet graceful, tone, then this symphony is wondrous to behold.  With The King’s Blood, Daniel Abraham has achieved such a graceful symphony.  There’s an excitement to reading a great novel in a genre you enjoy, the pages ratchet up the excitement for what’s come before and what it promises, this excitement is present in The King’s Blood. Every beat of Epic Fantasy that I wish to hear was struck in The King’s Blood and struck with an evocative quality that comes across as a perfect hybrid of inborn talent and precisely honed skills.

While The King’s Blood published in the spring of 2012, it wasn’t until Thanksgiving 2012 that I finally pulled the novel from Mount Toberead.  Even though I’ve read some great novels this year (2012 releases from Myke Cole, Elizabeth Bear, David Brin, Joe Abercrombie and Robert Jackson Bennett come to mind), I’m pleased I waited a bit to read The King’s Blood because for my reading sensibilities it stands as the best Epic Fantasy novel of 2012. If past experience with this series specifically and with Daniel Abraham as a writer, generally, bear out then The Tyrant’s Law should be the standout epic fantasy of 2012 and The Dagger and the Coin will surely be spoken of in the same breath as A Song of Ice and Fire and other great Epic Fantasy of the early 21st Century.

 

– HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION –

 

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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