Book Review 2008 #12: A Shadow in Summer

The first in yet another epic fantasy series. (“The Long Price Quartet”) However, it was strongly recommended by Jay Lake (Mainspring). So I thought I would give it a go. Written by Daniel Abraham.

Yeah, I know. Why would I start another fantasy series. Why should you read *this* one? There are many fantasy debuts in a year. Why is this one worth my time, or yours?
This one has the advantage of having original elements.
The novel begins with a prologue in a traditional vein, with a student at a school for “Poets”, those who can control the arcane beings called the Andat. The student’s apparent failure as such is actually the key to success and he is invited to become a *real* student.
And then he walks away, rejecting a system he sees as wrong.
So, with the prologue throwing us off kilter, the action shifts to Saraykeht, and a set of viewpoint characters. Maati is a traditional protagonist, one of the students of the system that the prologue’s Otah rejected. Liat is a young worker in one of the Houses of the city, and Amat is the most untraditional of all, a middle aged to elderly woman who has spent years working in the same House.
A conspiracy involving the andat of Saraykeht, Seedless, draws in these characters, the poet, Heshai, who ostensibly controls Seedless, and then there is the mysterious beau of Liat, a laborer who is far too uncommon to be a common laborer…
The culture of the city and the milieu is distinctly non-Western in a way that reminded me of, say, Tekumel. Characters use “poses” and body language in a way that reminded me of courtiers in dynastic China.
Although this is a debut novel, the writing is mostly clear and fluid, and the characters are well drawn. Abraham has clearly read widely in Epic fantasy, enough to play with our expectations and undermine them, as he does best in the prologue.
I can see why Lake liked it so much, and the book also has an approving blurb by none other than George R.R. Martin. For once, such blurbs are more than just chatter. I have hopes that the subsequent novels will improve the writing even more and that Abraham will prove to be the equal to the ambitious goals and world that he has started to illustrate here. I enjoyed the book and I will read the further novels in the series.