Leviathan Wakes is space opera that, whilst influenced by prior works in the genre - The Quiet War has had a pretty clear influence here - and by non-novelistic science fiction (there are definite Star Trek, Blade Runner and even Firefly vibes and riffs), is also deeply original and thoughtful; passages about missionary work (see p225 for that one) among other in-passing philosophical digressions make it into an intellectually stimulating and challenging work in the same way the characters and plot challenge our morality and conscience to come up with a better solution.

The characters are stone-cold brilliant.  The damaged Miller, one of our two viewpoint-characters, is a cop (of a sort), working through a number of issues, losing and refinding himself, and generally going through hell; something like the PI of a noir novel, but also something like the lead character of a police drama like Luther or The Shadow Line's Jonah Gabriel, Miller's a nice combination and a very morally dubious character.  Holden on the other hand is uncompromising, and very black and white; the interactions between these two, the hard-bitten cop and the Mal Reynolds-esque captain, are brilliantly well done, without sentimentalism and without attempts to make these characters mesh when they don't, which makes some of the emotional moments of the novel hit all the harder.  The other characters - Naomi, Amos, Alex, Shred, Julie, Havelock et al. - are well drawn characters with their own problems, emotions and difficult times; we're not seeing a cast of cardboard cutouts or uncomplicated people, but real individuals, which makes certain events all the more resonant in the novel.

The plot is complex - Leviathan Wakes isn't for those who like a simple novel - and dystopian; the privatisation of the setting, the plans-within-plans, the sociopathic nature of the villain all add up to something darkly horrific and awful, and the change of focus about two thirds of the way through is handled utterly brilliantly, with the rest taken up with a whole new, awful and yet wonderful problem, borne of the first part of the novel.  The plot is handled well and efficiently, with the change from detective novel as our characters try to figure out whodunnit to an action novel as they try to deal with the consequences and catch those who did it (not that this transition is as hard and fast as that makes it sound) strong and reasonably clear without being jarring.

All in all, Corey - that is, the fictional author made up of Dan Abraham and Ty Franck - is clearly an author to watch, and Leviathan Wakes is a fantastic, fascinating and enthralling space opera that makes one sit up and take notice.
Yesterday, The Speculative Scotsman announced that he had received a book that, if I hadn't already bought and been half-way through, I would have been deeply jealous of.  On Thursday, this novel (according to Amazon.co.uk) actually comes out.  On Friday, Waterstones - at least, Waterstones St Andrews - put its copy of this novel on the shelves and started selling them.  That's right: The Dragon's Path, by Daniel Abraham - and evidence that even I can occasionally be a little ahead of the game!

Daniel Abraham's epic fantasy is in a vein all of its own.  Unsurprisingly, there are some similarities to George R. R. Martin's work - but where I'm not a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, Abraham doesn't do the things that annoy me in Martin's work; and there are some pecularities all Abraham's own that really make me love this first novel in The Dagger and the Coin series.

The Dragon's Path has a wide, well-designed, complex cast of characters, with some really wonderful elements.  Written from the perspective of Dawson, Cithrin, Marcus and Geder, with chapters devoted to each and in their name but in third person (you can see the influence of Martin here!) we really get into the heads of these characters in brilliant ways: each one's different perspective on overlapping events gives a more rounded, detailed picture of those events, whilst the different locations and plots of the two pairs of characters - Cithrin and Marcus, Dawson and Geder - gives us not only different settings, characters and surrounding plots, but in some ways entirely different genres.  The characters - including those who aren't viewpoints, but intersect with them - are all different, with varying degrees of likeability and intelligence, as well as voices of their own, appropriate to who they are; there's a fantastic style that Abraham maintains to ensure we can keep track of who's who simply by reading the dialogue, because the spirit of the characters infuses what they say so deeply, and how they say it.

The plots of each pair are brilliantly done too.  Whilst Dawson and Geder are in a political and military plot, with huge, obvious and far reaching consequences of the sort beloved by both traditional fantasy and Martin fans, Cithrin and Marcus embroil themselves in a much more local, and much more economic plot; thus the dagger and the coin of the series title, I presume.  The former of these two plots works intelligently and well - occasionally a little too pat, and with certain elements brushed over a little quickly (there are periods where people aren't at court for extended periods, and yet their influence seems effectively unchanged) and occasionally with little real logic (some of Geder's actions, throughout his plot, don't seem to fit his character).  The latter is the true genius of the novel; as both Abraham's short and long fiction demonstrates, he has a firm grasp of and strong interest in economics, and this pays off in a deeply fascinating, complex, interesting plot which combines a number of elements, intersecting with the political plot lightly, but mainly focused on the human element and the economic element, perfectly paced and really well dealt with.  This is the plot that really moved me and absolutely sucked me in, and I have to say if the series was in future split into books for each plot, it's the plot I'd be instantly buying books detailing, whilst the other I might be more wary of.

Finally, the setting; unlike other epic fantasy series, Abraham doesn't feel the need to tell us everything he can about the setting in the first novel.  The Dragon's Path tells us a lot about the setting - about it's history and geography, about the 13 races who people it, about how they interrelate, about the politics of the world and the historical sort of period those politics are of - but it doesn't travel everywhere, it doesn't go into detail about the races for the sake of it, and Abraham is brave enough to throw names into the story and leave them there without giving much explanation, as well as to simply drop in concepts and races, without really going into too much detail.  This is fantastic and naturalistic, and I absolutely love it stylistically; it leaves me wanting much, much more, but not in anything remotely like a bad way.

Unsurprisingly, I love this novel; I'm even willing to already say that this is probably one of the three best novels I will read all year, and I've already read one of the others.  Daniel Abraham, and The Dragon's Path, both deserve great things.
The third novel in the Black Sun's Daughter series, following Unclean Spirits and Darker Angels, Hanover continues the themes set up in the first two novels of the series, bringing things further to centre-stage and, towards the latter half of the book, making our characters question much of their knowledge and many of their assumptions.

Janyé is still growing into herself in this novel, questioning her decisions and uncertain about both actions and motivation, but she's clearly maturing; whilst we are told she's still questioning her role as leader - and indeed, are shown it - and whilst she is still 24, and not wholly mature, she's growing into her new responsiblity and importance, as well as developing her own leadership-style.  Her decision-making is more mature and her vulnerabilities explored in further detail, especially in relation to Eric.  Aubrey, Chogya Jake, Ex and Kim all remain as important, indeed central, characters to the mix of interpersonal and supernatural dramas that form the plot of the novel, remaining in their roles but growing into more complex people as Janyé sees them more and more clearly; and Eric finally starts to become a real character of his own, in absentia, rather than a 2D role model for Janyé to look up to.

The plot of the novel is very different to the previous pair; for a start its much darker, and secondly its more complex.  There's a whole level beyond the previous set-up of riders possessing individuals revealed in this novel, and that problem - and the powerful rider that forms the problem that the novel revolves around - is really well dealt with by Hanover; indeed, he keeps the plot fast-paced and balances the emotional and rider-based plots incredibly well, mixingt and blending them to perfection in Janyé's mind and decisions.  The reader is always slightly off-balance, on the verge of being uncomfortable with it but never quite there - Hanover keeps us in our seats and watching, fascinated and caring about what happens.

The revelations and twists that form this book in the series are also really well handled.  They've been hinted at before, but not telegraphed; they're not coming out of the blue, and as Janyé says at one point, "we see what we expect to see." That gives the revelations that extra punch as they change preconceived notions and mix things up a lot, to the point where by the end of the novel things are in a completely different light and there's been a whole paradigm shift with it.

This is a fantastic novel, and given that the fourth in the series was recently released (at least in the States), I'm itching to get my hands on it.

Hanover's sequel to Unclean Spirits is a fantastic urban fantasy adventure, combined with a coming-of-age story; as the second book in a quadrilogy, however, it hardly comes to a conclusion in the latter form, and as an urban fantasy story it comes to something of a conclusion but there are a number of loose ends left to be picked up in the sequels.

The characters are growing stronger and better as the series goes on, becoming a more cohesive group with interesting inter-relations; this is especially true of Jayné and Choygi Jake, though the introduction of the brilliant character of Karen Black - throughout the novel a hidden ace with various different elements never quite made explicit and hinted at throughout the novel, vital information about her character concealed (as it is written from the perspective of an older Jayné, there are many hints of what's to come in the final twists of the novel) and a great character in conjunction with Jayné's slightly immature figure.

The plot's also pretty good; whilst some of the twists and turns are predictable, especially as the novel goes on and hints are dropped in a more and more heavy manner (to the point of basically being a neon sign saying "Look! This is what is really going on!" in large letters), there are elements that are unpredictable and unexpected - never out of character, but often manipulating or changing the characters slightly in such a manner that things are going to be interesting in future books, with the implications of this book being long-lasting.  There's a lot of action, and some espionage, revealing the skills and knowledge of the various characters; indeed everyone gets a moment of being awesome, and a moment of being very much themselves, here.

Finally, as a middle book in a series, this is successful; it continues developments from the first book and maintains continuity whilst avoiding alluding to intermediate events that Hanover hasn't written, whilst still giving the reader a sense of time passing.  It also sets up enough hints and interesting comments about the future books in the series that one wants to continue on, and read all four books just to find out what happens to Jayné et al.

So, all in all, Hanover's continued his innovative Black Sun's Daughter urban fantasy trilogy with skill, style and panache; a really good novel.
Once more on the trail of good urban fantasy to shake preconceptions of the genre, I'm tripping over authors who've written in other fields - in this case Dan Abraham, author of the Long Price Quartet (beware spoilers!), writing under the pseudonym of M. L. N. Hanover.  Hanover's novel of Jayné Heller and her discovery of her supernatural heritage along with the supernatural world is another example of the genre in a different way; here a troubled college dropout finds out about a whole new world and has to fight to survive in it from the moment of her entry.  Another trope, another brilliant and well-done example of it.

The cast of characters - Jayné, Aubrey, Midian, Ex, and Chogyi Jake - are all different kinds of people, are differently motivated and differently written with their own distinctive style; it's that strong characterisation which The Long Price led me to expect of this book.  The voices, thoughts, opinions and styles of each character - how they move, act, react, think - are all so different and individual, so carefully drawn, as to provide incredible differentiation and humanity to all of them; it's a brilliant cast which gives so many different reactions to an extreme set of situations.

That set of situations is the plot that forms the novel.  It's a relatively simple plot of revenge and self-defence in the same act, and fighting the bad guys; it's also a coming of age for Jayné, drawn convincingly and well despite the difference between the character and the author.  The developments of the story and the character of Jayné work together to form a cohesive whole, a set of events that play off each other and build to a logical climax that works incredibly well; the story has a couple of moments of deus ex machina written in that are explained away with a version of handwavium, but the plot is generally coherent and well-written.

The plot's a great one too, with it's new take on UF; the ghosties and ghoulies and so on are drawn interestingly and, for that matter, the mechanism of their existence is one that has roots in many traditions - Abraham's work seems characterised by its tendency to reach beyond Western tropes - and it is put across in such a way as to convince the reader and make them a little jumpy, including about some characters in the novel because of how they act.  The setting influences the reader to such a degree in reading the novel that it changes how whole scenes seem and feel brilliantly.

All in all brilliant urban fantasy which incorporates many of the tropes, and even the sex, and makes them fresh, new, and exciting. Really good work, and I want to read the rest of the series.
This is an odd one for my blog, since rather than reviewing a single novel I'm reviewing a series as a whole - a series, by the way, that I am not alone in thinking is absolutely fantastic and something of a game-changer in epic fantasy because of its setting, thought, and scope.  As a review of the whole series, however, this review will naturally contain spoilers for the first three novels - and, because I can't see the point in spoiling only three out of four and being careful about the last, quite possibly spoilers for the fourth as well.  Therefore, under the spoilery-box-thing it goes; if you want a spoiler free review of A Shadow in Summer, the first book of the quartet, I reviewed it here.


Overall, then?  I am simply bowled over by Abraham's work; reading these novels is an incredibly rewarding experience, as Dan Abraham produces, in The Long Price Quartet, the story of a country, of two men, of a world system, and of so much more, with incredible depth and beauty.  I am simply awed, and really have nothing but praise for these novels.
This is the first novel in the Long Price Quartet, Dan Abraham's great epic fantasy series.  Obviously, then, this has to tick all the boxes of starting an epic fantasy series: worldbuilding, lavish descriptions, somewhat two-dimensional characters, songs, destiny-based plots, Tolkeinian magic systems, and wise mages.  However, if you've read Leviathan Wept And Other Stories then you'll know one thing about Dan Abraham: A Shadow in Summer is not going to be remotely that predictable... and it doesn't disappoint.

Abraham's characters are incredible; Itani, Maati, Heshai, Amat, Seedless et al.  They're individuals, within a culture with an Eastern tint; actually, it's a very Eastern tint, with an addition of Abraham's own. That's worldbuilding, though - skip to the next paragraph to learn about that!  The characters are all wonderfully human; they're different, individual, flawed, emotional, confused and confusing.  They make decisions that aren't always sensible, they fight for what they believe - or what they believe they are forced to, they don't necessarily act logically but often act well, and the andat Seedless is inhuman in a very wonderfully human way.  I'm drawn to these characters - "heroes" and "villains" (there's neither, really - it's just different points of view, as Seedless makes clear on a few occasions whilst talking to Maati) alike; they're incredibly real.

The worldbuilding is incredibly complex, and portrayed brilliantly.  Abraham has invented a language of poses, and rather than describe the poses and expect us to remember them, or throw information at us about how it developed, he just uses it; characters take the appropriate stance and Abraham tells us what it conveys, rather than anything else.  The nature of the setting is gently oriental, and absolutely beautiful; it's wonderfully described, the city of Saraykeht lives and breathes as much as the characters.  The magic of the setting, in the form of the poets and their andat, is also beautifully portrayed; introduced in the introduction, new aspects of the system appears over the course of the novel wonderfully.  Amazingly, for such a beautiful and detailed setting, Abraham manages to avoid infodumps; he lets us discover, over the course of the novel, the nature of the setting naturally, and it works really well.

Finally, the plot.  This is incredibly complex, drawing in all sorts of characters and elements; it draws various boundaries and groups which are never fixed and always fluid, with different aims and different knowledge.  Abraham keeps all the strands in line wonderfully, making sure they're consistent and cross over sensibly; indeed, the complexity isn't really noticeable by the reader until the end, because until that point Abraham's pace and writing style carry the novel so fluidly and quickly that whilst the complexity is there, it's not overwhelming.  It's got unexpected plot twists and is advanced not by destiny or characters acting without free will, but by the choices of the individuals who make up the story in a wonderful - and rare - way.

All in all, this is an incredible and novel debut, and having also read A Betrayal in Winter I'm very glad to have Seasons of War waiting for me at home after I return from holiday - I want to know what happens to all the characters! An absolutely fantastic novel. Go and buy it (or buy Shadow and Betrayal, containing A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter) now!
The Cambist and Lord Iron
This is quite a fun story, certainly one for the economists out there; a cambist (currency-exchanger) is presented with increasingly difficult dilemmas of exchange – pure economic exchange, if viewed in the right way (that’s a minor spoiler, by the by) – and has to solve them. It’s a lovely story, with the characters really well drawn, especially Olaf, the cambist; a great piece, and a really good explanation of a truly arcane piece of economics.
Flat Diane
This is a spooky story; it’s a bit of modern voodoo, I guess, and a tale of unintended consequences. Both Ian and Diane grow over the course of the story, and become strong characters in their own right; similarly, other characters appear and Diane changes. It’s a skilfully told tale, with the worst elements practiced effectively and efficiently; similarly, the best moments are really moving in themselves. A scary, and very different, story.
The Best Monkey
This is a rather Chiang-like story (although I’m thinking Abraham and Chiang belong in a very similar category…) about aesthetics and its effect on science, and on life. It’s a beautiful story, with a wonderful first-person narrator; set in the near future, it’s a piece of investigative journalism by Jimmy, who is old and nearing burn-out. It’s a good piece, and raises some really good questions without trying to solidly answer them – intellectual, without being pushy or obscure about it, and without trying to tell the reader what to think. Great stuff.
The Support Technician Tango
This is a great story of tech support, of tango, of self-help books being self-aware and evil… and of romance. Abraham has a wicked sense of humour, and in this story he really does let it show; the thing fits together perfectly, and whilst there are some genuinely grim and worrying moments, in more general terms its light-hearted fun. The characters are a little two-dimensional and stereotypical, although Sarah the receptionist isn’t; but the plot moves quite fast, and the whimsy doesn’t feel overdone. A hilarious story.
A Hunter in Arin-Qin
This is a good slow-burning tale that works itself towards a climax that, really, is a bit of a blinder. The build-up creates characters, and times, and events vividly without using the pen-stroke too precisely to allow the imagination to work; and the back-story told in the tale is invaluable and incredible. Abraham’s ability to create a story and an enemy is grand, and the climax of this one is unexpected and well-played, moving and yet (purposefully) it leaves one a little cold.
Leviathan Wept
This is an interesting story – very Hobbesian, as the name would suggest (and Hobbes does come up; it bears thinking about…). It’s a story of the near-future and of a Singularity event, perhaps; and about how peace can come. Abraham creates a cast of sympathetic characters and makes them do awful things – as soldiers, after all – whilst also throwing them into a problematic state; he also pushes an interesting and unusual political philosophy through the story. This is a nice little tale, well worth reading – and perhaps distributing to intelligence agencies the world over…
This is a really good one - let down by the beginning, but otherwise one of the absolute stand-outs of the collection. The description in the jacket flap is misleading, and the first part of the story is rather… melodramatic, in some ways, but the rest of it’s really good. Abraham’s discussion of maturity and how to deal with conflict is really interesting, and whilst the scaled-up versions of it are stuck in at the front (without really being explained… it’s a poorly started story, though it continues really well) the human version played out through its 15-20 pages is excellent and moving. Really interesting in this world of social networks &c.
As Sweet
This is a nice, sweet tale of love and romance – and what those really are; about how growing up and growing old are not the same thing; and about what the difference between Romeo and Juliet, and a couple married for years, is. It’s an interesting story, with a nice moral and a light touch; but somewhat heavy-handed in making its point blunt and clear. A sweet tale, though – as sweet as a rose, maybe…
The Curandero and the Swede
America is a land of immigrants, a “border town” as Abraham puts it in this story… and it’s a land of stories; Neil Gaiman’s American Gods demonstrates that well enough, for example. However, this story is more than just a story of America – it is an American story, and an American story in a very particular way. It’s a story about stories, about America, about people, and about all different “immigrants” to the story itself. It’s a really good tale, a wonderful piece of folklore, and really good on meaning and, again, at its heart, about romance. Wonderful stuff.

All in all, this is a fantastic collection of stories, well worth reading, up there with Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life, and deeply moving... I read them in a day, and it was hard to put them down, even when I needed to.  Few duff notes, and a powerful tour-de-force.


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February 2012

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