Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: The Dragon's Path

The Dragon's Path was a highly anticipated read for me.  Despite hearing lots of good things about Abraham from all corners of the interwebs,  I had yet to get around to reading anything by the guy.  On top of hearing great things about Abraham from bloggers and reviewers whose opinions I trust, from what I hear, the guy is like, George R.R. Martin's padawan or something. Well, that's gotta be worth somethin' right?  Also, I feel like I've been searching and failing to find the next great epic fantasy series and then, boom, along comes a new fantasy series by this Abraham guy I keep hearing about.  So, it is fair to say that I had some hopes, high hopes, pinned on this opening volume of The Dagger and The Coin series.

This new epic fantasy starts out on familiar turf, with an orphan.  But Cithrin isn't your typical fantasy orphan.  From the get-go Cithrin is intelligent, capable, and thankfully, not part of some ancient prophecy. Instead, she's the ward of a rich banking house which lies in a city about to fall under siege.  Cithrin is tasked with the extremely difficult and stress-inducing task of smuggling the bank's wealth across a war zone as part of a trading caravan guarded by one of our other principle characters, Marcus Wester.  Wester is in charge of a band of mercenaries theater troupe which he has hired to play-act at being hardened soldiers since his own crew got arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct.

As Marcus, Cithrin and the theater troupe flee the free cites, Geder, a young noble from the neighboring Antean Empire heads towards the same city as part of an invading army.  More of a scholar than a soldier, Geder is a pawn in the great games that the nobles back in Antea play...a game that is spiraling out of control in the worst possible way.

The Dragon's Path is a problematic book for me. I wanted this one to be good. It could have been good. But it wasn't that good.  This book is basically a great poker hand where the author didn't go all in and he should have.  Abraham has all the makings here of a solid, potentially great new edition to the epic fantasy pantheon but he doesn't quite deliver the goods.  For every potentially positive aspect of this novel, there is an equally negative quality that drags that aspect down towards mediocrity.

Allow me to elucidate:

Abraham does something I always love to see in epic fantasy, and populates his world with a bevy of humanity who are of different races.  (And I don't mean elves, dwarves, gnomes, goblins, etc.) This is a quality of the book that I was very excited about, and I was always hoping to hear more about as I turned the pages.  Sadly, the differing races are only given a bit of mention and even less description.  From what I did read, there didn't seem to be much cultural or language diversity among the peoples that populate the world.  Maybe there'll be more exploration of  the various races in the coming volumes, but for my money there should have been more development of this concept in the 550 pages this volume contains.

Another aspect that felt half baked and ties in a bit with racial diversity is the world building. I'm always excited to explore a new fantasy world and see what awesomeness it holds in store for me. It's a fun aspect of the genre for me.  The Dragon's Path features a map that displays what appears to be a massive continent with a variety of different kingdoms and realms.  I was pleased that through the course of the story, I got to visit a fairly good number of these places too.  The kicker is that one location never felt all that different from the next and I never got a sense of atmosphere nor was I able to form a clear picture of the various locations in my head.  There is very little "lay of the land" type development or description in The Dragon's Path. This was a frustrating quality that definitely took away from my enjoyment of the story.

The main characters, who head up chapters as point of view characters much like in GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire series, were hit or miss for me too.  I definitely enjoyed both Cithrin and Marcus and felt that both characters were well developed and always interesting to read.  On the other hand, Geder, and Kalliam, both of the noble class from the Antean empire, felt more like plot elements than characters.  It seemed to me like Abraham used these two character's actions to move the story along but those actions and the character themselves didn't always seem to match up.  Often, and this happened with both Geder and Kalliam, the character would do something incredibly stupid that would lead to an exciting plot development, but the logic behind the action didn't necessarily make sense for the sake of the character himself.  This aspect led to lots of frustration for me and was totally infuriating at other times.   This also made the "political intrigues" portion of the story come across as pretty amateurish, both in terms of the writing and in terms of the character's actions.

Combine these hit and miss story elements with my (probably too high) high expectations that I had going in and you get a very disappointed reader.  I always feel a bit guilty when I pin expectations on a book or an author, and then get disappointed when the book doesn't meet my hopes and dreams.  That being said, even without the expectations, I would have been disappointed with The Dragon's Path.  I need to have well developed characters, a world I want to explore and a story that fully captures my imagination in order for me to fully hook onto an epic fantasy series, and this one fell well short of those requirements.

Grade: C-


Bryce L. said...

Wow, that's a big surprise. Thanks for lowering my expectations going into it.

Ryan said...

Sorry dude. You may likely enjoy The Dragon's Path, as it appears I am firmly in the minority of opinions here, but as I said, too many let downs in too many critical areas for me.

Bryce L. said...

I have some pretty high expectations still, but those points you mention are pretty much deal breakers.