New To Me: A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham
(New to Me books are books I’ve just read that have been out for more than a year – whether that means “a year and a bit” or “several decades”.)
Where I got it and why: I bought this from my local Borders; I loved A Shadow in Summer so much that I wanted to support the author (plus I didn’t want to wait for the library to dig up their copy and send it to me)
Recommended? Yes, particularly if you’re a fan of second-world fantasy plus politics – and of course if you liked the first one.
Review: This second book in Abraham’s Long Price Quartet takes us to the Winter Cities, about as far from the setting of the first book as possible. Machi spends half the year frozen, and tunnels under the city offer an opportunity for social life even when it’s too bitter to go outside. (I love the attention to setting in these books; I live in a climate with very volatile weather, so I miss it when the seasons never get a mention.)
The Khai Machi is dying, and his sons must start killing each other – only the sole survivor can be his heir. The Khai has three official sons, but there is also the fourth – Otah Machi, who was sent to the poets’ school as a child, but who, uniquely, neither became a poet nor rejected his claim to his father’s throne. As soon as people become aware that he is still alive, he becomes known as The Upstart, a frightening, half-legitimate figure in the shadows.
And so, to be sure that chaos does not ensue, the Dai-Kvo, head of the poets’ organization, sends the disgraced poet Maati to the city to find Otah, determine if he has been illegitimately murdering his brothers, and stop him if he can. The problem is, Maati still loves and respects Otah, and is sure he is not the one behind it.
He’s right. This is no spoiler; rather than being structured as a mystery, the book lets you follow both the criminals and the investigators at the same time. The murderer is Idaan, the Khai’s daughter. Frustrated at her position in life – destined to be married off for political power – she has developed a plan to make her fiancé the new Khai, by killing all of her brothers and pushing his family to the top of the political structure. It would be the honorable thing to do if she were a man; since she is a woman, it is a terrible crime.
I found this one a little harder going than A Shadow in Summer. Possibly this was because I didn’t connect with as many of the characters. I still liked Otah’s reluctance to get involved and his eventual realization that not getting involved was going to be disastrous, but Maati seemed to exhibit a lot of learned helplessness in this book, and the Machi poet Cehmai just didn’t do much. I wanted to like Idaan, but about halfway through I thought to myself, I wish this wasn’t yet another story about a woman being slapped down hard for stepping out of her place. If Abraham wanted to explore the awful ways the tradition of succession damages people (a genuinely interesting subject), he could have at least done it with a male character.
All of which makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book. I did, and I continue to love the worldbuilding and the andat and the way he explores the long-term consequences of peoples’ decisions. I will absolutely be reading An Autumn War as soon as I can get my hands on it (unfortunately there isn’t a bookstore in town that has a copy for sale). But this is a dark book, slow-paced and melancholy, and with the blush of new love fading from the series, I found it a little more work to get through.