Review: Shadow and Betrayal (Long Price Quartet #1-#2) – Daniel Abraham

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Summary:

In a remote mountain academy, the politically expendable younger sons of the Great Houses study for an extraordinary task. Most will fail, some will die, but the reward for the dedicated few is great: mastery of the andat, and the rank of Poet. Thanks to these men – part sorcerers, part scholars – the great city-states of the Khaiem enjoy wealth and power beyond measure, and the greatest of them all is Saraykeht: glittering jewel of the Summer Cities.

There are those in the world, however, who envy such wealth. There are great riches to be had in the Summer and Winter Cities, and only the threat of the andat unleashed holds the enemies of the Khaiem in check. Conflict is brewing in the world. Alliances will be broken and friends betrayed. The lowly will be raised up, the mighty will fall and innocents will be slaughtered. And two men, bound to each other by an act of kindness and an act of brutality, may be all that stands between the civilised world and war. War and something worse . . .

One Sentence Review:

The first book is wonderfully unique; while the second is painfully average.

Review:

I don’t normally read sequels back to back, even if they are available to me. On a practical level, I have a large TBR list and like to jump around or have ARCs to read. On a level of fairness, I don’t want any prejudices I may have against an author or their style to be amplified because I’m reading more of their work at once. And finally, on a level of “how good is this series really,” a good series will make me want to come back and read more. Case and point: I read the first two books of the Abhorsen series within a month of each other. I’ve been trying to get to the next Vampire Academy novel for the past ten months but somehow never manage to actually do it.

I bring this up because in this instance, I broke this rule, and read two books back to back.

Shadow and Betrayal is actually a compilation of the first two novels of the Long Price Quartet (A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter respectively). I was drawn to this series not only for the Asian influences (down to the style of the prose, which might feel familiar to those who have read The Analects of Confucius or another such work in translation) but because it promised to cover the entire life of it’s protagonist, Otah Machi, the sixth son of the Khai Machi. It’s something you really don’t see in fantasy. Usually you just get glimpses in their lives – a few years, maybe a decade or two at most.

One of the most remarkable things about A Shadow in Summer is that we spend a large chunk of the story following a woman in presumably the twilight of her life, which is great, and as an added bonus, she’s smart and resourceful and has a sense of justice to her. Like everyone else in the story, she gets drawn to a girl named Maj; someone unfortunate to get impregnated by a noble and be used as a tool in a larger conspiracy resulting in her getting an abortion not only against her consent, but without her knowing what was going on due to an inability to speak the language.

A story centered about abortion. When was the last time you saw THAT in fantasy?

In her case, she tries to unravel what happened and get her as much justice as she can. The other main protagonist is on the other side, dealing with a master roped into performing the abortion, even though it was the absolute last thing he wanted to do.

Although it has implications that will no doubt be long-term for the series, it ultimately still felt kind of like an intimate story, really focusing on the lives of the people who were impacted by this, even as Otah was almost more of a side character, than a main character. It was different, and it worked, and it was enough to make me keep on going when I really had planned on stopping.

Unfortunately, there was nothing near so unique in the second book.

Otah Machi is the sixth-son of the Khai Machi and he never renounced his claim to the throne. You know that at some point he’s almost certainly going to get caught up in the fight for succession when he lives in a world where tradition dictates that the man who succeeds the throne is the last the son standing. And sure enough, the entire second book is devoted to that fight. There’s mystery of who instigated isn’t a mystery at all because we follow them as much as well follow Otah (who finally becomes a major player). And because this is a quartet, you can guess how it ends. After how different the first book felt, to find something so traditional feels like a real let down.

Finally, though the summary talks of the andat, they aren’t as important in the first two books as you’d expect them to be. Seedless is definitely more interesting than Stone-Made-Soft, but could have just as easily been a courtier or a rival merchant as a magical being and Stone-Made-Soft just existed for me. Don’t read the book for the andat, is all I’m saying.

I think this is series that had some definite promise and I feel like A Shadow in Summer might still be worth your time, A Betrayal in Winter is decidedly, almost painfully average.

I don’t think I’ll be picking up the other collection.

Verdict: Borrow It, if only to read A Shadow in Summer.

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