49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2006
The Cities of the Khaiem shine like jewels in the East, and the brightest is the port of Saraykeht. The realm's profitable cotton trade flows through the city, quickened by the artistry of the poet Heshai. For in the East, a poet's art can become incarnate as a powerful spirit-slave (andat), and it is on the shoulders of Heshai, master of the andat Seedless, that the weight of Saraykeht's continuing prosperity balances ... a weight outsiders would gladly topple.
In these delicate times, first-time novelist Daniel Abraham chronicles the poignant choices of a handful of characters seldom seen in the "fantasy" genre: a middle-aged, female overseer of a foreign merchant house; her aging employer, the house's lord; her young assistant; the assistant's lover (a common dock-laborer); and Heshai's newly-arrived apprentice. Together and individually, without sword or spell, these elegantly-realized few will determine Saraykeht's fate.
Mr. Abraham, quite often a poet himself in fashioning the novel's lacquer-smooth prose, has written a marvelous novel--a "fantasy" by virtue of its setting and the andat's power, but a fantasy that can be gleefully dropped in the lap of anyone complaining of generic, Arthurian or Tolkien-esque settings; paper-deep protagonists; or unrestrained gore. "Shadow" (Book One of the planned "Long Price Quartet") is both fresh and literary, and as Mr. Abraham has spent years writing short fiction and honing his craft, he deserves every compliment that comes his way.
Although "Shadow" is not a perfect book--some will no doubt label the communicative custom of "poses" (e.g. "[he] took a pose half query and half command") as a device to cheat and tell emotions instead of showing them; and there is a plot issue as mentioned after the spoiler alert--it is a book worth owning and, likely, re-reading. Fans of Barry Hughart ("Bridge of Birds") and Guy Gavriel Kay ("Tigana") should take special note of this tale. Four summer-bright stars.
** Spoiler Alert **
The plot is driven by a Western conspiracy to remove the poet and andat and thus cripple the city. The execution of the story is solid enough that one may not pause to consider the larger picture; but in retrospect, it seems implausible that the conspirators would adopt their complex, innocent-life-taking scheme when assassinating the poet would work just as well. Of course, it could not be a blatant, traceable act, but a well-planned "accident"--perhaps a roof tile falling on the strolling poet (as it does on others in an actual scene), a mugging, or the consumption of "bad" liquor or drugs--would work equally well and with fewer contortions.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2006
I am in love with this book. The characters, which in some ways are familiar (the Hidden Prince, for example) are richly written, real people with real lives rather than fleshed out stick-figures who only serve to advance the plot. The relationships are complex, both friendships and emnities are well founded, and the interactions are genuine, almost making the reader feel embarrassed to be evesdropping on conversations rather than reading them in a work of fiction.
Mr. Abraham amazes me with his ability to paint details into scenes with an economy of words, relying on mastery of vocabulary rather than volume of prose. Having only read of the place in this book, I feel I know Saraykeht. It's seedy dockside, it's glorious noble quarter, it's teahouses, inns, and places where workers toil at their labors are all familiar territory to me. I can hear the beggars singing for alms, the the prostitutes singing for clients, and the food vendors hawking parchment wrapped parcels of fish and ginger or sugar-glazed almonds. The climate of the place is so well detailed that it too seems like another character.
The plot and storyline are also impressive. I have read enough novels to this point to be tired of over-reaching tales of high improbability. Mr. Abraham's story is above all things believable, written on a scale that takes no great leaps of faith to bring to life in the mind's eye. Normal people doing business, living and working in a world where the greatest magic is not wizards raising armies of undead or lobbing fireballs about the firmament, but that of the Poet, who once in his lifetime chants a song that's taken him years to write, to capture a thought and make that thought flesh and purpose. Court intrigue is at play here, not high wizardry and grand adventure, and I applaud the author for it. This story is pure, well considered, and believable.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2011
So I've done something that I haven't done since I was a teenager: gone back and started to re-read a novel or series somewhat shortly after finishing it the first time. The series, as you can probably guess, is "The Long Price Quartet". I can also safely say that I doubt I would have gone back and started to re-read this particular series a mere few months after having finished it if I were still a teenager. I feel that this series requires a certain maturity to properly appreciate it, and much as I once rolled my eyes at concepts expressed as "a maturity that comes with age", I think it's quite appropriate here.
I'm not going to review this series with a description of the plot and characters, beyond some general strokes to set the stage. The world revolves around two regions. The first is a loose grouping of independent cities (the Cities of the Khaeim) of a former empire. These cities are as much rivals as allies. The second, The Empire of Galt, is a fairly aggressive, warlike empire which obviously has the strength to take the cities of the Khaiem if they so desire, or at least enforce far better trade agreements than they currently have. The Cities of the Khaiem have a powerful deterrent however, in the Andat which are literally ideas made flesh. And these ideas, when controlled by the Poets who call them into being, have no limits beyond the idea itself and the imagination of the Poets. So, the main Andat in the first book of the series, "A Shadow in Summer", is called Seedless, and the idea behind him is "Removing the Part that Continues". In every day usage, Seedless is forced to remove seeds from cotton bales to greatly speed up the processing, and this makes his Poet's city incredibly rich. If the Galts threatened the city, Seedless could remove seeds from every plant in Galtic territory, thus ruining their crops. If you realize that a fetus, or even the egg and sperm cells of humans, can also be considered as "the part that continues", the power of the Andat is obviously enough to allow the cities of the Khaiem to dictate unfavorable terms to the Galtic empire. It's an interesting setup, but not the reason why I went back to re-read it.
There are some intriguing questions regarding slavery (the Andat have no choice but to be called into being, and are constantly searching for ways to be released back into the flow of ideas), how to frame an idea in a new way, and such. There is also the rather obvious parallel to the real world if you consider the Andat to be this world's "nuclear weapon": incredible power, but with incredible potential to be misused especially since every one of these weapons is in the hands of just one person. These questions and parallels, while important to the series, are not the reasons why I went back to re-read it.
The reason I went back to re-read it, is because this series does something I've never seen before. It follows the main characters' lives at different points in time. You see them as boys and girls, adolescents, young women and men, middle aged, and finally elderly. Not all of them, since some of the characters are the children of the first characters you meet and some are already old in the first book. Others simply go on to live their own lives unconnected to the characters that are followed throughout the series. But for the main characters, you get to follow through the stages of their lives. The title of the series is aptly chosen, as the book is all about the prices people pay for the choices that they make, often without knowing what the price will be at the time. These characters get to reflect on their lives, think about past friends and lovers, choices made or not, and because they become IMPORTANT people, on how their choices affect the world. Daniel Abraham has a wonderful sense of how time affects people, dulls a memory or emotion, makes one realize that the things once thought to be of most importance can seem insignificant later. One of my favorite moments was a character in the fourth book randomly thinking about someone in the first book, a person he could no longer remember the name of. The people in this series are as real as you will find in novels, and the choice of how to follow their lives is perfectly done. This might be a fantasy series, but the fantasy elements are secondary and become more so as the novels continue.
Even just having started to re-read it, there are elements of foreshadowing themes and events that show up in the later books. It also adds an element of nostalgia, to look back at the early lives of the characters after having read the whole series.
It's important to note that someone reading the first book won't get any hint of this. It seems like a relatively normal - even slow - fantasy novel, though focused far more on politics and characters than most. The first book gets BETTER once the whole series has been read and processed.
There are, of course, some flaws with the first book, and the series, but in my mind they're far overshadowed by the writing and ideas. I've noticed that many people say there's a major plot hole in the first novel, but I don't think they're right. I'll admit that it APPEARS as if there is one, but it's mainly due to the focus on a single city of the Khaiem, and once you start reading the second novel in the series, the plot hole vanishes because you now understand more about how the world works. I've included a more extended comment on this, but keep in mind that there's a fairly large spoiler in it.
This series is on my most highly recommended list.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2008
I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand it was very well written for a debut. Lots of visual imagery making it feel like I was reading a painting come to life. The characters were anything but cliche and I found myself feeling like I knew each and every one of them. I also empathised and sympathized with them during the book and that is a sign of strong characterization. I also have to give Abraham serious props for making the book ~300 pages and not needing to go longer, this can be hard to pull off. So why only 3 stars?
Well, I'd actually give it 3 1/2 if I could but this book suffered from a major flaw and it was fundamental so it kind of ruined it for me. It is one of those "why didn't they do this?" questions that when answered usually sounds like "because then the book would be 10 pages." What we have is a beautifully described land reminicent of the medieval orient. At one end we have Galt, a war mongering country hell bent on taking over its neighbors. One of those neighbors is Saraykeht, one of the summer cities, which is a group of neighboring cities to the east. All of these summer cities are protected by an andat which is a kind of god-ghost that is controlled by a human poet from the city. The god may not want to protect the city but if the poet demands it, it pretty much has to (to keep a long story short).
To become a poet, one must go through years and years of tough schooling and even then only a few make it. For a thousand years the summer cities have been protected because of their control of these andat. Here is the flaw.
If a country's sole means of defense is an andat, which is controlled by a single person, this person being extremely rare and hard to produce, don't you think that person would be under gigantic amounts of protection? Don't you also think this person would face constant threats of assasination from enemy countries? Not in this book - never mind that his andat hates him and would love to see him dead (thus freeing his slavery). If the assasin ran out of bullets the andat would have tossed him a full clip (ok, ok, I know). This situation could never happen because the Galts would have assasinated the poet 999 years ago and no andat would be protecting anyone.
** /Spoilers **
If you can suspend this disbelief, you might really like this book. Like I said, it is well written and the characters are well developed. It isn't action packed, another reason my score was a little lower than others, and I found myself wishing for a little more adrenaline - this could be my own shortcoming, so I didn't penalize much for that. I never thought about quitting though, so that is a good sign at least. I'd say read it if you like original, character driven fantasy without cliches and cheese. Don't read it if you like action or can't look past a few fundamental holes in the security, uh, I mean plot.
Edit: I just noticed that a few other reviewers pointed out the same flaw as me so it appears pretty obvious. I feel bad for the author because someone should have caught it before publishing the book and I'm confident he'd change a few things is he could go back and do it over again. I'm guessing the next few books will see this plot hole disappear and the author will reap the rewards of his talent.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2006
When you've read fantasy for as long as I have (I'm 37 and started at 11 with LORD OF THE RINGS and then Zelazny's AMBER SERIES), you get tired of the fact that 90% of fantasy tales revolved around a dumb farm boy who is the missing heir to the kingdom or to long gone magical powers, he has a good heart but can't seem to get the girl, he has to leave home and help the world/nation/kingdom against some Dark Lord, who tends to be archetype and has some old mentor who gives him the sword/magical talisman to win and kick the beejesus out of the Dark Lord. Oh, and then he gets the girl usually or finds someone better than the girl because the girl wasn't a very nice person. Heh.
Back then there weren't too many variations on this tale unless you wanted to read Michael Moorcock or maybe H.P. Lovecraft, though, he's more horror than fantasy.
Nowadays, fantasy is beginning to shift to grittier/realistic tales; George R.R. Martin being at the forefront. So, now, it isn't about such tales so much and if it is the dumb farm boy might not be such a nice guy or he may lose against the enemy. Maybe, unlike traditional fantasy, someone can wear black and not be a bad person.
So, saying all that for those who have walked with the fantasy genre as long as I have, we finally get to encounter a novel that takes another spin.
A SHADOW IN SUMMER has a distinctive Asian flair to it with almost no focus on the usual medieval European setting. Moreover, there isn't some Dark Lord to defeat.
The tale focuses on politics between various factions within the city of all cities. This city has gained the powers of a powerful spirit that has the ability to give the city a major up in the cotton trade by taking the seed out of cotton plants, thus, giving them a huge advantage upon other cities that need to hand pick the seeds out of each cotton bushel.
Naturally, other cities, most notably one similar to a European one, wants
to free that spirit or control that spirit so that they can then monopolize the cotton trade.
So the whole story is about various groups either trying to do this or about other people investigating this plot, not quite realizing the full details until later.
One of the world details I liked about this world and that is based on historical facts is that the people communicate very much in body language rather than words so people will be talking and then take on a pose of apology, love, joy, anger or conciliation. It's definitely a nice touch.
So read this book if you like intrigue, court politics and strong characters, who are not the usual archetypes and are actually doing something besides running the from the minions of the Dark Lord.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2006
As a fantasy writer, I find it very hard to get involved in someone else's world, but this book really blew me away. I kept trying to figure out how he did it--and how I could write more like that. The characters are marvelously believable and sympathetic--complex, with mixed emotions and motivations. I wanted them all to succeed, and knew that they could not.
Abraham is a master of resonance, building in layers of meaning and echoes that return throughout the work. Definitely not your standard fantasy. The plot moves slowly, on the one hand, and yet I was engaged by the characters & didn't mind the pace. I did find the ending a bit of a let down--but I am eager for the next book to see where the brewing troubles will lead.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2006
This is a good book. It's intelligent, it's fresh, and it's human. Abraham creates a new world, introducing some fascinating concepts, such as demigods forged by poets, which is what Fantasy as a genre allows you to do, and at the same time what he has created is warm and human. These characters come alive off the pages. You care.
Abraham treats you like an adult. It is rewarding to read some fantasy that is grown up and complex and smart. Makes you feel that you are, too.
My only negative comment is that it takes awhile to get going. While he was educating me about this new world, he almost lost me. If you are in the first quarter of the book and feel that way, keep reading. It's worth it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2006
It has been four months since I read this book, and I still vividly remember the characters. The characters are real to me.
They are real, not only because they have all the foibles and intricacies of true people, but also because Abraham drew them with such vivid, perfect descriptions.
You should read this book if you enjoy seeing interesting characters interact in a fantasy setting. The fascinating characters' interactions are like a dance.
I recommend this book, if you want a wonderful reading experience that will stick with you.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2010
There are a number of aspects that can help one fantasy novel stand out. Excellent prose. Deft, inventive worldbuilding. Believable characters that possess genuine human qualities the reader can relate to. A new take on a classic theme that lends freshness to the story. Fluid, realistic dialogue.
Most novels achieve a couple of the above, others maybe more.
A Shadow in Summer possesses all five. The fact that it is American author Daniel Abraham's debut novel makes this feat all the more impressive. Yet what pleased me the most is that Abraham deliberately set out to write something different:
"I wanted to do something to reset people's expectations. I wasn't trying for a traditional epic fantasy, and I thought that would be one way to alert readers that this one might be a little different."
"A little different" being something of an understatement. There are no dark lords, epic battles, magic swords or commoners discovering they have royal blood. In fact, many of the obvious trappings of the fantasy genre are conspicuous by their absence.
And A Shadow in Summer is all the better for it. Don't misunderstand me; there's nothing at all wrong with any of the above elements. It's just nice to read a fantasy book that doesn't immediately feel like two-dozen other ones you've already read. What we have instead is a character-driven story that delves into both the light and dark sides of the human psyche.
The city of Saraykeht is the greatest of the cities of the Khaiem: one of the world's great trading hubs, whose ruler commands a power to rival the gods. This power is the andat Seedless - a captive spirit, formed from thought - who is controlled by the poet Heshai. Seedless is crucial to both the city's cotton trade, and to protecting it from the threat of external enemies.
Yet a plan is in motion that could destroy Saraykeht's influence, and leave it at the mercy of foreign powers. A plan that will cause the collapse of old friendships, betrayals of trust and abuses of power. A plan that will send shockwaves around the world.
And all that is required is the death of one child...
Despite the large-scale repercussions of the secretive machinations in A Shadow in Summer, the cast - unlike many epic fantasies - remains reassuringly small, and each and every character is fleshed out and developed very well. Liat possesses an outward confidence that hides a fragile sense of self-belief, Maati struggles to balance his desires and loyalties, while Otah discovers that you cannot raise barriers against the past. Heshai the poet convincingly flits between wry humour and bleak depression, while Amat and Marchat - two old friends - struggle to understand the changes in their lives as they find themselves on opposing sides in a confrontation that is both political and ideological. The relationships that Abraham builds between these various figures, and the way those relationships grow (or collapse) is utterly convincing, and often touching.
The star of the show, however, is the andat Seedless. Quite simply, he's a wonderful creation, and steals pretty much every scene he appears in. Secretive one moment and painfully honest the next, he's utterly unpredictable - and this is what makes him such an absorbing character. This unpredictability, coupled with a sly wit, means that he oozes menace. Yet the flaws in his binding - the fault of Heshai - are largely to blame for his mindset, so he's far from a simple black-hearted villain. Like everyone else, he has his motivations and reasons to explain them.
Abraham has developed a colourful, vibrant world for his story to unfold in. The land of the Summer Cities possesses a distinct Eastern flavour that provides a refreshing break from the Western European-esque setting of so many fantasies. There's little exposition, as the story doesn't really call for it. Instead, Abraham prefers to breathe life into his world through little touches and flourishes. The use of poses is a good example (characters adopt various physical poses when conversing, almost like a second language). This feature - so easily implemented - adds texture to the world and society.
Another element that makes A Shadow in Summer stand out from other epic fantasies is the speed at which the story unfolds. The plot develops well and at a steady pace, with no unnecessary fluff: the book itself is only 304 pages long. Abraham's prose is also worthy of praise, as it's sharp and precise, yet very evocative:
"To his left, dawn was breaking, rose and gold and pale blue of robin's egg. To his right, the land was still dark. And before him, snow-covered mountains - dark stone showing the bones of the land. He smelled something - a perfume or a musk that made him think of women. He couldn't say if the vision was dream or memory or something of both, but a powerful sorrow flowed through him that lingered after the images had gone."
Perhaps the most striking aspect of A Shadow in Summer is the lack of large-scale set-pieces (as mentioned earlier, there are no battles or epic confrontations). In fact, there's very little physical violence at all - and I found this rather refreshing. This is a novel that - despite the large-scale consequences of the conspiracy at its heart - is very much about the emotions of a select few people, and their respective struggles to maintain their identities and relationships as they try to resolve their own problems. I'll draw a parallel with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire here, another epic fantasy series that is inherently driven almost entirely by its characters (Martin himself acknowledges Abraham's very "human tale" in his cover quote). And, based solely on this evidence, I don't think mentioning Abraham in the same sentence as Martin flatters him at all.
Verdict: A Shadow in Summer is the sort of novel that we need to see more of if the fantasy genre is truly going to thrive. It's fresh and intelligent, beautifully written and introduces some wonderfully believable characters. In essence, it's a convincing demonstration that you don't need to fall back on the same old familiar tropes in order to write a good fantasy novel. Abraham may not get the exposure that many other more prominent authors in the genre receive, but he certainly blows many of them out of the water in terms of ability. I'll definitely be reading the rest of The Long Price quartet - of which all four books have been released, and recommend that if you're hungering for something a little different, you give A Shadow in Summer a try.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2007
I am shocked that only 19 people have reviewed this book since its release over a year ago. This book is great! It should be more widely read.
Word should have spread already, but if it hasn't reached you yet, then take heed: A SHADOW OF SUMMER is the type of fantasy you have been looking for.
George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series was a double edged sword for me. It is stupendous but it has ruined the genre by comparison. Abraham is the first fantasist I've read since GRRM who rivals him (obviously all bow to Tolkien).
Abraham populates his world with complex characters. Each feels real because they are flawed. The players make choices they regret, are uncertain of, that are both good and bad. In short, they reside in a world of grey, rather than a world of black and white.
If you, like me, are tired of the down-trodden farm boy that finds the power within to fight the great evil, then you will welcome A SHADOW OF SUMMER. Here, characters are not totally virtuous or totally malevolent. They are doing the best they can and may only be judged based on the totality of their circumstances viewed from their perspectives. This amounts to a fascinating read.
SHADOW has elements of the supernatural or magical. But their presentation in SHADOW is totally unique. Poets or magicians - to draw an illustrative comparison - realize their supernatural whims by distilling them into a physical form. To remove seeds from cotton, for example, the poet must create and capture a sentient being that can do such an act.
Abraham explores the implications of enslaving a creature to facilitate the lives of a society at large from many perspectives, including individual, economical and governmental.
The setting has an Asian flair, which is different from the medieval setting normally found in the genre. I enjoyed the presentation of this new setting.
Take it from me, a reviewer who does not give everything 5 out of 5 stars, you should not miss a SHADOW OF SUMMER. I give it my highest recommendation.