A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
Where I got it and why: from the library. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but Jo Walton just recently reviewed the whole series over at Tor.com, and that provided that final kick.
Recommended? Hell yes! Anybody who loves second-world fantasy, unusual worldbuilding and magic, and character-driven plots will love this.
Review: A Shadow in Summer is the first of the Long Price Quartet, and Daniel Abraham’s spectacular first novel. It’s of the genre I’m inclined to call “epic fantasy,” except for most people that means swords and elves and Good Versus Evil, and what I mean by it is just second-world fantasy with a huge cast and extraordinary world-building. And let me tell you, this has it in spades.
It’s hard to say who the main characters are because everyone is important in their own way. There’s Amat, the aging overseer for House Wilsin, who was good friends with the head of that house until she found herself objecting to his political tactics, and Liat her apprentice. Maati, the apprentice to the poet Heshai, and his extraordinary relationship with the poet’s slave, the andat Seedless. And the remote Khai, the ruler of the city; the vile pimp who Amat finds herself working for for a time; and not least, Otah, who could have been a poet but refused the brown robe.
Aside from Otah’s prologue, the action all takes place in the city of Saraykeht, one of a number of loosely allied city-states each ruled over by their own Khai. The cities of the Khaiem have one thing in common that holds them together against other nations like Galt, and that is the andat. The poets describe the andat as “an idea translated into a form that includes volition.” They’re essentially the embodiment of an idea that has been described and enslaved by the poet, who is then responsible for holding and controlling the andat. The andat for Saraykeht is Removing-the-part-that-continues, called Seedless — and he’s central to the city’s dominance of the in the cotton trade. No cotton gin for them, they have an andat to pull the seeds from the cotton.
And Galt, a nation whose dominance is in military rather than in economic matters, knows that the only way to conquer the cities of the Khaiem is to remove the andat. House Wilsin is their tool in a plot to drive the poet mad and force him to release Seedless, destroying Saraykeht, and the plot of the novel revolves around not only this plan but on all the characters’ various reactions, objections, and desperate attempts to halt or at least avenge the Galtic scheme.
It’s an amazing world, based on Asian cultures in the same way that most fantasy is based on European cultures, with no direct parallels to real-world cultures and nations but providing the overall shape of the culture and history of the world. The characters are universally deep and well-drawn, and for the most part intelligent – I do so hate following around people who can’t see what’s happening in front of them. And the sequels! I’m about a hundred pages into A Betrayal in Winter, and the sense one gets is that the whole of A Shadow in Summer was necessary just so that you could understand what is happening in this book. It’s glorious, and I love it.