Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Review: The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

The Tyrant's Law is the third book in the The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham. It follows directly after The King's Blood. It's been a really long time since I read the prior books- nearly 6 years! Despite this, I still remembered several of the main characters- a testament of Abraham's work. I was eager to continue the series, in spite of not remembering all the details.

Read on for my review.

Overall Impression
Perhaps it was the long time span between the books, but I just didn't enjoy this one as much as I remember enjoying the prior ones. The characters are still there, though I didn't feel they were as outstanding on this novel. Plot wise the book felt incomplete; clearly setting up for the next installment. The overall world building was good and I did enjoy reading it, but it's certainly not going to be a contender for top books this year. I still intend to finish the 5-book series, though, since I have hopes that the latter two novels will be as good as the first two.

The story continues were it left off, which unfortunately for me meant I was a bit lost given how long ago I had read the prior books. The Lord Regent is consolidating his forces after the civil war in the prior novel and eyeing his neighbors for further expansion and a bit of retribution. Clara is picking up the pieces of her former life after her husband's failed attempt to overthrow Geder and the prince. Cithrin is continuing her training as a banker while Marcus and Kit are on an adventure to recover an old relic. The characters are all separated, at least initially, which gives us a broad view of the state of the world at the start of the novel.

The plot moves along fairly well, though a few parts feel superfluous. For example, Marcus and Kit's plot lines are tied together and despite their seemingly epic nature, fall far short of expectations. Perhaps it's a consequence of the speed of events relative to the narrative or just a fact of glossing over the details in their adventure.

All in all, this feels like half a book. While there are plenty of interesting things that happen, in contrast to the first two books it felt like a lot of build up with an abrupt end and little pay off. Clearly, the next book will wrap up the threads introduced in this one, but if you only intend to read one book you'll be disappointed (though you really shouldn't start with the third one in a series!).

This book continues to follow the same characters introduced in the prior novels: the young banker Cithrin bel Sarcour, the tyrant Geder Palliako, the mercenary Marcus Wester, the apostate priest Kit, the recently widowed Clara Kalliam, along with a supporting cast. Only Clara, and to an extent Cithrin, appear to actively grow and change through the book, otherwise the rest are pretty much as we remember them. Geder does grow a bit, but I think of it more as a series-wide development rather than constrained to a single volume- if you compare how he was in the first novel he clearly has changed, and not always for the best. While it's good that the cast is small and manageable, it does give a limited scope of what otherwise feels like an epic fantasy. A strength of Abraham's prior books turns to a weakness in this one since the main characters are so far apart and rarely interact with one another.

Setting / World Building
This is probably where the book redeems itself, potentially even surpassing it's predecessors in how it delves deeper into the races of humanity and the conflict between the spider goddess and the dragons. Marcus and Kit's journey takes them to exotic lands to recover an artifact from the time of dragons. Their journey reveals some interesting answers to the nature of the spider cult, though it also opens up more questions. We also get some interesting dragon lore at the beginning of the book, which will clearly play a much bigger role in the subsequent novels.

As has been introduced in the prior novels, this world has 13 races of humanity, presumably made thanks to the dragons of old. Cithrin, for example, is half-Cinnae and Yardem, one of her mercenary-turned-guards is Tralgu. We get to see some Southlings, some Haaverkin, and lots of Firstbloods and Timzinae. The latter are the focus of Palliako's war, as driven by the spider cult. We can guess at some of the reasons from Abraham's post on the races:
The Timzinae are, in fact, the only race whose place in the order of creation is unequivocally known.  The youngest of the races, they date from the final war of the dragons.  Their dark, insectile scales provide little of the protection that the Jasuru enjoy, but they are capable of utterly encasing the living flesh, even to the point of sealing all bodily orifices including ears and eyes.  Their precise function as a tool remains obscure, though some suggest it might have been beekeeping.

Final Thoughts
I'm sad to say I was a bit let down in this book of the series. Maybe I over-hyped my memory for the past books or maybe I've just been reading too many good books recently, but I felt it fell far short of what I remembered from the past. Character-wise it was OK, but only just that. The setting was good and the unfinished plot makes me want to continue reading so I can wrap up the series.

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