woensdag 6 augustus 2014

Review: Daniel Abraham, The King's Blood (The Dagger And The Coin, #2)

The first book in a big series is always tricky business. You have to balance a whole lot of worldbuilding with setting up the plot and introducing characters, but at the same time, you have to make sure that your book is exciting enough to draw readers in and that it can, more or less, stand on its own. The Dragon's Path, the first book in Daniel Abraham's The Dagger And The Coin series didn't completely succeed in that feat. The second book, however, made good on the promise that The Dragon's Path implied.

After having read the first book in The Dagger And The Coin series by Daniel Abraham, I was left with mixed feelings. My expectations were far higher than the book could live up to, since every other review I read made a favourable comparison to George R.R. Martin. It was, however, no Song Of Ice And Fire, and thus it took me a little while to pick up the second book in the series. When I did come to it, the book proved why this series got so much critical acclaim to start with. The Dagger And The Coin might not be as ambitious as A Song Of Ice And Fire, but it can definitely hold its own against those big epic series and The King's Blood does everything to prove that.

 
War casts its shadow over the lands that the dragons once ruled. Only the courage of a young woman with the mind of a gambler and loyalty to no one stands between hope and universal darkness.

The high and powerful will fall, the despised and broken shall rise up, and everything will be remade. And quietly, almost beneath the notice of anyone, an old, broken-hearted warrior and an apostate priest will begin a terrible journey with an impossible goal: destroy a Goddess before she eats the world.

Whereas the plot in the first book was all over the place and didn’t seem to have any real direction (*), The King’s Blood did have a good sense of direction and purpose. Everything that went down in The Dragon’s Path is coming round with repercussions attached. His surprising save of the young monarch has put Geder in the position of Regent, albeit with the use of some magics. Another one who finds herself in a position she didn’t bargain for is Cithrin, in charge of her own branch of the Medean Bank but under severe supervision. All the while, Dawson and Clara try to survive in a politically precarious environment. In the end, they’ll be faced with the decision of staying true to the throne or to themselves and it’s a choice that might cost them dearly.
Upon finishing The Dragon’s Path, I felt like I read a very long and elaborate prologue and this feeling got reaffirmed with The King’s Blood. Whereas the first book has put the pieces in place, the game of chess has now officially begun. Most of the characters have gotten engaging plotlines with lots of intrigue and deception – I’m especially looking at Cithrin here, the intrigue and plotting is really becoming a second nature for her. While I liked most of the plotlines, I wasn’t that convinced by Marcus’s. It’s not that it was lacklustre, but I definitely missed something there to make me fully connect to his story. In this bunch of five POV’s he falls right in the middle and gets lost there. His story is nor really intriguing nor is his character development taking a turn for the better nor despicable, which makes him the grey mouse in a bunch of brightly coloured personas. Talking about characters that go down the wrong path, Geder is the prime example here. Whereas he garnered some sympathy previously, he’s becoming more and more off-putting as the series – and this book – goes along. This is certainly not a bad thing in terms of my interest for his storyline and the novel in general, on the contrary. The thing that makes his story engaging and off-putting at the same time, is that you witness his progression from hero to tyrant with decisions that fall ever so lightly on the wrong side of the moral spectrum. In this, he is strongly aided by the Priests of the Spider Goddess. With them, magic in slowly creeping in the story and it’s making it even more engaging. This proves once again that you don't need balls of fire weezing around or other mindblowing magical pyrotechniques to write a great Fantasy series. Just some subtle magical aid is all one needs.
While the different storylines are all of a nature that they keep you reading, I do miss the grander scale of some other big Fantasy series. Every character has his or her own little – or not so little – struggles, but it’s hard to find some overarching plot. The bigger picture, if you will, is missing. With three more books to go, I have no doubt that events will come together and tie everything up in one big epic knot.
The character development is pretty much on par with the respective storylines. It’s the ones I’ve mentioned before that truly come to their own in this book, wile Marcus is left standing on the side line. Perhaps it’s because characters like Cithrin, Clara and Geder are so engrossing, that a more even tempered character like Marcus does not stand out as much (**). Dawson portrays some of the same symptoms, but because of his political involvement, his storyline prevents him from befalling the same fate as Marcus. Master Kit, at last, has been a side character for long, but now he’s coming more and more to the front stage and he proves to be an intriguing character. I’m curious to see where the story takes him.
This has all come to be thanks to the solid writing from Daniel Abraham. While it is true that The King’s Blood, as was the case in The Dragon’s Path, starts off really slow, I can’t really critique Abraham’s writing. It’s all just very solid, with enough worldbuilding and exposition to set the stage and a change in pacing to get you hooked for the showdown.

The King’s Blood shows that, while you may not judge a book by its cover, you also can’t judge a series by its first book. The Dagger and The Coin series received lots of praise when the first book was just released and was compared to George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series. After The Dragon’s Path, however, this comparison felt like a marketing stunt to me, cause everybody was loving Game of Thrones at the time. The King’s Blood proved me wrong in proving the critiques wrong, cause by now I can see where people might get the comparison from. While I do miss the grand scale and some major epicness, The Dagger and The Coin is building up to become another great series that can hold its own in a landscape where Martin and the likes are busy conquering seven kingdoms and more.


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(*) Despite the book being titled The Dragon's Path.
(**) He reminds me a bit of Eddard Stark, in that respect. While a great character, both don't really have that little extra to compete with more colourful characters, at least to me. That being said, you can't rely on the bold and beautiful all the time, so a Marcus is needed to even out the book.

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