Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review of A Shadow in Summer

Daniel Abraham's debut novel, A Shadow in Summer, is the first book in The Long Price Quartet. The next two books, A Betrayal in Winter and An Autumn War, have been released and the final book The Price of Spring will be out in July 2009. Even though he is a relatively new novelist, Abraham has written a lot of short fiction and been involved in several writing projects, such as the new Wild Cards books (his sections in Inside Straight are the reason I picked up this novel) and Hunter's Run, co-written with George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

The Khaiem train young men who prove to be powerful yet compassionate to become poets - not those who write verse but those who magically bind an idea in a physical form known as an andat. The city of Saraykeht has an andat that gives it enormous economic advantage. Seedless, also known as Sterile and Removing-The-Part-That-Continues, is primarily used for removing seeds from cotton effortlessly, so they do not have to be combed out manually in a time-consuming process. Since Seedless has been bound to serve against his will, he perceives himself as a slave and schemes to become free of his master, Heshai-kvo.

A Shadow in Summer is a political and character heavy fantasy containing a unique world and magic. There is not focus on sword-fighting, battles and action but more plotting and relationship and character building. Instead of the common medieval European setting, the culture is influenced by Asia with much tea-drinking and formalities. When characters are interacting, they tend to take on poses conveying their emotions and thoughts, such as poses indicating delight, acceptance, or an apology.

My favorite aspect of this novel was the andats, the ideas that poets created and bound into a form. The only andat we are introduced to in this book is Seedless, who is the most fascinating character in the entire story. Seedless is largely amoral and will do almost anything to attain his freedom, yet he seems to truly care about what happens to Heshai-kvo's student, the well-meaning Maati. His main goal seems to be to make his master miserable, and the two have a turbulent relationship.

With the exception of Seedless, the characters were missing that special something that made me really care. They were well-developed with distinct personalities and goals and I enjoyed reading about them, but I never really felt that they came alive. One of the most interesting character moments to me was in the very beginning in the prologue, but the rest of the book did not live up to that promise. Liat, the shallow young woman who was part of a love triangle with two young men, annoyed me - she didn't seem particularly bright and the way she treated Itani really made me dislike her. She hated the fact that he was a common laborer and always tried to get him to aspire to more. This was partially because she realized he was very intelligent but it often seemed as though she were looking down on him. Fortunately, the other main female character was much better. Amat, an older woman, was a merchant's adviser who became caught up in Seedless's scheme when he recruited her boss. She stumbled upon the plot, tried to destroy it, and eventually lost her place in society, yet managed to make herself a new place and come out stronger for it in the end. Both Itani and Maati were likable in spite of their mutual fascination with Liat.

Even though this is the first book in a series, it is a complete novel with a clear conclusion and no cliffhanger ending.

A Shadow in Summer is a solid debut and I enjoyed it for its uncommon setting and magic. However, it did not engage me enough to make me want to run out and get the sequel, although I will most likely read it at some point.



orannia said...

Thank you Kristen! Hmmmm....it seems interesting and yet...just from your review I gather it was missing that special...zing?

I might keep an eye out for it though....once I get through Sarah Monette's books :)

Kristen said...

Yes, I felt like this one was missing that special something. It was definitely interesting, but with such a great idea it seemed like it could have been a lot better than it was - instead of just the average good read. A Shadow in Summer is a debut novel, though, so I'm sure Abraham will continue to improve as a writer.

Have you started the next Monette book yet?

Jeff C said...

I haven't been able to get too excited about this, though I own the first 2. I tried reading A Shadow in Summer 2 or 3 times, and stopped 30 pages in. I'm sure I'll give it a shot again later in the year, when the final book hits stores.

Kristen said...

Jeff - It's certainly not the fastest paced book and I can see why you would find it difficult to keep reading. I did enjoy Abraham's writing in Inside Straight a lot more, though.

LisaBit said...

It's interesting to me to read a review by someone who liked the book but wasn't all that wowed by it. For me it really stood out above a lot of the other political/character fantasy, both for its interesting setting (I was thrilled both by the idea of Andants and by the poses) and the solid characterizations. Like you, I despised Liat - but for me that's always been an indication that an author is doing something right. If they can make me really despise a character, they're accomplishing something pretty powerful.

All that said, I was very excited when book 3 came out and started it immediately... only to discover that I had almost no recollection of what happened in the first two books. So maybe they do lack that "certain something" and my memory was faster to acknowledge it than my consciousness ;P

ediFanoB said...

From time to time I like to read books which aren't fast paced.

Your good review gave me the impression that "A Shadow in Summer" is a slowpaced book. I will add it to my list.

Benjamin said...

A Shadow in Summer is pretty different and probably the weakest in the series. Each book seems to be better than the previous one. I didn't really identify with any of the characters until A Betrayal in Winter. Abraham is now one of my favorite authors.

I hope you like the rest of the books if you do pick them up. :)

Kristen said...

LisaBit - That's true that making a character despicable can be a strength. It's not necessarily a bad thing but why she was the object of so much attention is unfathomable to me. I like the types of characters I can love to hate - instead of the types that just seem pathetic like Liat. Did you finish the third book? I keep hearing that it's the best in the series so far.

ediFanoB - Yes, definitely read this one when you are in the mood for something slower paced.

Benajamin - Thanks! It's good to hear the next two books are better and that the characters are easier to relate to. I have heard that the third book is very good. The next book is still on my list but when I always have about 150 books on the want-to-read list, ones in series that didn't really stand out to me tend to get pushed to the back of that list.

Benjamin said...

Kristen, I definitely know what you mean. ;-)