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Book Review: A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

I think I first heard of the Long Price Quartet from a book review that made it sound interesting. Only later did I find out Daniel Abraham was a friend and collaborator of George R. R. Martin, one of my favorite authors.

The series distinguishes itself from other fantasies in a lot of ways. First, each book is much shorter than typical epic fantasy. I read the first book in almost a single sittting, and did the same with each of the other books. Beyond that, the non-Western setting adds flair and uniqueness. This isn’t a European Medieval fantasy, but an Asian-themed world of politics, economics, and ideas. But most of all, because it is a series that relies not on violences or powerful heroes, but on strong characters and a tight plot. In fact, most of the books feature very little physical conflict between the characters, though the threat of war remains constant.

In any other genre, not having a sword fight or magical duel every few pages would seem normal, but in fantasy it becomes a refreshing change of pace. Abraham’s characters are very human in their flaws and weaknesses, and they often make poor choices for which I can empathize. They take risks they shouldn’t, convincing themselves they can make it big or fix their prior mistakes. And they invariably make things worse.

Which brings me to the real them of the books, and those the title. That sometimes the price of your choices is a long time coming, but you always have to pay it (sometimes for a long time after). I don’t want to spoil the fantastic plot, but I will spoil the premise a little. Poets in this setting are able to capture ideas, creating sentient incarnations of them, by expressing those ideas as poems. A poem that fails to properly express an idea ends badly for the poet, and moreover, any idea that escapes (usually on the death of the poet) cannot be recaptured using the same or similar discription.

This, the magic of this world, is unlike anything else I have seen. Not only is it highly original and thought-provoking, it raises the usual questions about the enslavement of sentient beings. These ideas do not really want to be enslaved to the poet, they want to be ideas, not bound in physical form. But society depends on these poets and their ideas for its economy and to protect it from their more militaristic neighbors.

If I had any gripe with the series, it was that having the characters constantly communicate by non-verbal poses got old. After the first book, it become second nature to see it, so I breezed past it the same way I would if a character smiled or frowned. But it took me time to not find this aspect of the world a little jarring.

I highly recommend A Shadow in Summer and all the books of the Long Price Quartet:

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