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The Dragon's Path: The Dagger and the Coin    by Daniel Abraham order for
Dragon's Path
by Daniel Abraham
Order:  USA  Can
Orbit, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's the beginning of another fantasy epic by Daniel Abraham, author of the superlative Long Price Quartet. The Dragon's Path is the first book in a new series, The Dagger and the Coin. It's set in a world inhabited by 'thirteen races of humanity' (whose physical differences include tusks, long ears and glowing eyes) in the aftermath of the fall of the Dragon Empire.

This first episode is framed by the reader's encounters with The Apostate. When first met, he's on the run from priests (his former brothers, now intent on his death) carrying dragon-forged swords, whose blades carry poison. He had always believed what he was taught, tales 'Of the spider goddess coming to bring justice to the world.' He fled the cult after learning that 'his whole life had sprung from a webwork of plausible lies.' At the end of the book, we're surprised to meet him again, his face now a familiar one, as he concludes 'It's begun.'

Abraham then develops his story through the adventures of a series of loosely related characters. Yet, as we read, a larger pattern emerges. Captain Marcus Wester is the kind of aging, tragic hero - whose honor makes him his own worst enemy - that master fantasist David Gemmell always gave us. Marcus, who no longer works for kings, is accompanied by a Tralgu sidekick named Yardem - the banter between these old comrades is amusing. After hiring an acting troupe (led by Master Kit) to make up for men who were conscripted into the city of Vanai's defence forces, they guard a caravan heading to Northcoast.

Vanai awaits an imminent attack from Imperial Antea. In anticipation, Medean banker Magister Imaniel sends his talented young ward and student, Cithrin Bel Sarcour(disguised as the boy Tag) to secretly drive a cart filled with the bank's fortune to Northcoast. Of course, Tag joins Wester's caravan. And though her sex is discovered, Marcus is persuaded to help her. Sir Geder Palliako - who would rather read than rieve and pores over old tomes, researching a Righteous Servant - is a despised officer in the invading army advancing on Vanai. When his fellows humiliate him and his superior burns a valued book, Geder swears an 'oath of vengeance' - opportunities quickly come his way.

Dawson Kalliam, Baron of Osterling Fells, is an old school Antean nobleman. As such, he is vehemently against an emerging movement for a new farmer's council, which would change the realm's balance of power. Kalliam works his agenda hard, both through his political contacts in the capital of Camnipol and through his son Jorey, who is with the army descending on Vanai. And though his wife Clara doesn't always agree with him, she has his back and civilizes him. The Antean political tides shift and churn, influencing events in other places, including Vanai, where the invaders seek to track down the bank's missing treasure.

Violence and betrayals abound on all fronts. And Abraham continues to avoid the usual trite good guys fighting ultimate evil. Rather he shows us shades of grey, with reasonable, credible motivations on all sides. It's especially disturbing how likeable Geder is, though his actions are those of a war criminal, and he is continually manipulated by others ... hell hath no fury like a scholar scorned! At the back of this book is an intriguing author interview and an excerpt from the second in the series, The King's Blood. If you enjoy fantasy, don't miss any of Abraham's work. It's very well worth your time.

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