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An Autumn War: The Long Price Quartet    by Daniel Abraham order for
Autumn War
by Daniel Abraham
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

An Autumn War - which follows A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter in Daniel Abraham's extraordinary Long Price Quartet - starts slowly, then pulls together plot strands from previous episodes into a gripping tale of a desperate, doomed defense of the Khaiem after invasion by the Galts, led by General Balasar Gice, who believes he is 'saving the world.'

Poets fuel the Khaiem's economy, by magically binding andats - powerful 'Concepts translated into a form that includes volition'. The number of andats is dwindling and the Khaiem is at risk from surrounding realms that covet its riches. In A Shadow in Summer, Galt agents worked to destroy Poet Heshai in the southern summer city of Saraykeht. Otah Machi, sixth son of the powerful Khai Machi, fled his heritage to live as a common laborer. Learning of the Galt plot, he made a hard choice. His friend, Poet Maati Vaupathai, became involved with Otah's lover Liat, who bore a son, Nayiit.

In the second episode, A Betrayal in Winter, with his father dying and his brothers being murdered in chill nothern Machi, Otah became chief suspect in the killings. As a clever trap tightened inexorably around Otah, he was helped by his old friend Maati, mercenary Sinja and his wife-to-be Kiyan. He was ultimately forced to accept his heritage and take on the unwelcome role of Khai Machi, so that he would be free to start his own family, without always looking over his shoulder for assassins.

As An Autumn War opens, we meet Galt General Balasar Gice, returning from a desperate mission into the perilous wastelands of the old Empire. He weaves information from the ancient books he has recovered, and his alliance with a petulant failed Poet, into a desperate plan to invade the all powerful Khaiem and eliminate their control of andats, on which their defenses have long depended.

As Balasar's plans proceed, readers are reacquainted with the Khai Machi, Kiyan, Maati and Sinja, as well as Liat and Nayiit, whose travels take them to Machi. Sinja, dispatched on a mission to train raw recruits, is absorbed willy-nilly into Balasar's army. As news of the invasion reaches Machi - and the Khaiem's defenses are overwhelmed - Otah does what he can to fight back against enormous odds, hoping to buy time for Maati to find a magical solution.

It's an enthralling read, filled with conflict, but what I liked most about An Autumn War (and the series in general) is that Abraham does not write the usual trite fantasy of good guys fighting ultimate evil, but rather shows us good and bad - with reasonable, credible motivations - on both sides. His stunning conclusion to the war (a remarkably innovative one) sets the scene perfectly for the final episode. The Long Price Quartet is a gift to fans of fantasy, and to anyone who wonders about the moral ambiguities involved in wielding absolute power over others. Don't miss this outstanding series.

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