Monday, 27 September 2010
Book review: The Price of Spring
By Daniel Abraham
(Orbit omnibus edition, 2010)
A Shadow in Summer review
A Betrayal in Winter review
An Autumn War review
With the first two books in The Long Price quartet - A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter - Daniel Abraham introduced his intriguing world where poets turn thoughts into human form, and laid the complex foundations for the later events that had such devastating consequences in An Autumn War. The third book in the sequence took a different direction to its predecessors, and the same is true of The Price of Spring: whereas the first three novels were primarily based around conflict, the final book of The Long Price is concerned with the rehabilitation of a world that has been torn apart.
Some fifteen years or so after the events of An Autumn War, Otah - now bearing the title of Emperor - faces his greatest challenge yet: repairing the political and social divisions that have taken hold of the world following the war with Galt. Otah's task is utterly thankless - to build for the new world's future, he needs the support of his former enemies, the Galts, but unsurprisingly such support is not willingly given. With pirates raiding the fringes of the fledgling empire, and friction at court, it seems the old powers of the world will fall. As if this wasn't enough, an old adversary is plotting to overthrow Otah's vision for the future, by seeking redemption from the very thing that ruined the world in the first place. As the world descends once more into chaos, Otah must ally with a former enemy in his attempt to prevent the new empire's fall.
The focus of The Price of Spring differs from the previous books in the sequence: whereas they were largely based around conspiracy and conflict, the final instalment in The Long Price quartet focuses on serious social and political issues, and Otah's attempts to resolve them as he fights for his future vision. Much like the first novel in the sequence, A Shadow in Summer, there are no epic battles or particularly dramatic sequences, yet Abraham still manages to deliver a novel that shocks and enthralls in equal measure.
The characters are the driving force of this novel, as has been the case with each book in the series. Maati is at the heart of events; he's very much the tragic figure of the story. The once fresh-faced poet is now an ill old man, his conscience crushed by guilt. His attempts to seek redemption for the failures of his past proves a moving, emotional journey. Otah's own struggles are no less troublesome - he pivots between his role as emperor and father, and struggles with the conflicting loyalties this inspires within him. The emergence of an old foe lends an interesting dynamic to the proceedings, as do the actions of Vanjit, whose background and emotional fragility make her both a complex character and a major catalyst for the shocking events that unfold. Vanjit is an excellent demonstration of Abraham's ability to create utterly believable characters that have a profound impact on the story he is telling; as I've said before, The Long Price quartet is a very human story. The world may be very different from our own, but the emotions and complex psychologies of its inhabitants mirror our own reality.
While the underlying premise of The Price of Spring may differ from the earlier novels, the characteristics that made the earlier books such a rewarding experience are present and correct. Abraham's skill at plotting remains as strong as ever, and once more he demonstrates his ability to generate surprise - often without warning, and via subtle details. His prose remains evocative, combining with the touching introspections of his characters to leave a streak of melancholy throughout the novel. There's a real sense of nostalgia at times, a haunting sadness left by the passing of time, yet this is countered by a genuine hope for the future that the characters strive towards.
The Price of Spring does have more noticeable flaws than its predecessors. The pacing of the last third is rather slow, with a touch of monotony settling over proceedings as Abraham lines all his characters up for the final scenes. And while the outcome of the novel - and indeed the series - is superbly handled, there's an element of frustration as Abraham felt the need to add a largely pointless epilogue. Not only does this obscure what would have been a far more moving, natural ending to the novel, but it feels more like the start of a new novel than a true ending, and as such feels uncomfortably bolted on. It's a shame that the series ends on what feels like a weaker note than it could have done otherwise, but this doesn't detract from the overall brilliance of The Long Price quartet.
Verdict: The Price of Spring is an excellent conclusion to what is one of the best epic fantasy series ever written. It combines everything that made the earlier novels - and the series itself - such a joy to read: convincing characters, atmospheric prose, the ability to shock, and an emotional punch that stays with you long after you've put the book down. Like the very best fantasy, The Price of Spring invokes a sense of wonder, yet has its roots firmly in the sort of personal emotional struggles that readers will be able to empathise with. The result is an absorbing story of love and loss, loyalty and betrayal, shot through with streaks of both sadness and hope, and it must surely elevate Daniel Abraham to the pantheon of epic fantasy's best writers. The Long Price quartet is not to be missed.