Daniel Abraham is one-half of the pseudonym James S.A. Corey, with Ty Franck, who, together, are the authors of The Expanse series of space opera novels. Since Ty Franck has no other writing credits to his name, I’ve always assumed that Abraham was the true author, while Ty Franck was the worldbuilder and story contributer.
I’m still not sure that this is a good assumption, because Abraham, graciously, gives Ty Franck full co-author credit. The Expanse series has been wildly successful, spawning a television series that continues on Amazon Prime, as well as a lot of novels. I’m now reading Cibola Burn, the fourth installment of The Expanse series, and so far I can’t see any reason why I won’t continue reading these books. My love of the James S.A. Corey series led me to Abraham’s other novels.
Daniel Abraham has actively written several fantasy series, beginning with The Long Price Quartet, of which this novel is the first installment. A Shadow in Summer predates the first entry in his co-written space opera saga by five years.
I am a fan of speculative fiction. I am a forever-fan of SFF in general. The type of fiction that transports the reader from the mundane and extrapolates future or fantastical events. I certainly don’t mind fiction grounded in what we call reality, as long as interesting things happen. But, SFF is the genre that sparked my imagination as a child and continues to do so into advanced adulthood.
I have a feeling that I would get along with Abraham, who is just a few years younger than I am. He’s my kind of writer.
A Shadow in Summer is near-perfect.
I didn’t realize this as I was reading early on. But, it’s true. The worldbuilding in this novel is patient and measured. We have all become numb to the fact that most fantasy is based on medieval Europe. This one takes a distinctly East Asian path to world creation. There is considerable attention paid to ritual and a uniquely Asian value system. The form of government seems to be based on that of China or feudal Japan. And a form of magic exists in this particular universe, the product of magic-users known as “poets,” who can capture magical djinn-like beings through the word spells they weave.
The story of this novel involves the captured magical being—an andat—known as “Seedless.” There is talk of andats being captured “gods,” but Seedless comes across more a mischievous spirit, demon or djinn. This being is used to, ultimately, attempt to topple an entire power structure. While that is the “big picture” story of this book, we are drawn to the characters who help to play it out.
This is the type of magic I like in my fantasy. I guess you would call it low-magic. Not something easy to use, and potentially costly when it is used. The andat and its poet are locked in a sort of symbiotic relationship. Seedless hates his poet, as you would expective a captive to hate their captive. It’s more complicated than that even, because Seedless’s hate for the poet Henshai reflects the poet’s own self-loathing.
The city-state of Saraykeht has always been too strong for the empire of Galt to attack, but Galt sees a weakness in the poet Henshai. If the poet can somehow be eliminated, then the city would lose the protection of the andat, thus making it vulnerable. Marchat Wilsin, the head of the Galt trading house in Saraykeht, has been ordered to set plans in motion that will lead to the city’s downfall. While Wilsin may not be an evil man at heart, he is forced to commit evil acts for his government.
There are other characters in the novel who become unlikely obstacles to Galt’s ultimate success. First among these is Amat, House Wilsin’s business manager, an older woman who rose from the slums to this position of great power. She is smart and a force to be reckoned with. Think Avasarala from The Expanse; Amat could be her prototype. Her apprentice Liat also gets caught up in the intrigue, along with her lover Otah, who is more than the simple laborer he appears to be, and their mutual acquaintance Maati, a poet-in-training who also knew Otah when he was a young boy.
If you’re looking for massive military battles or wizard skirmishes, this novel might be a little low-key for you. There is very little overt action here. The plot journey is mostly an emotional one. We root for Amat as she is suddenly marked for death and has to use her wits to claw her way back to a position of power. There is a love triangle that you will see coming from a mile away. And, there is Otah’s own inner struggle, as a man who walked away from both family and his expected role in society to hide in the city as an anonymous laborer.
Saraykeht is a richly developed setting for this novel, full of sights and sounds and smells. There is also a sense of the much wider world beyond the city, one that the ending of this novel leads me to believe we’ll be experiencing over the course of the rest of the series. Speaking of the ending: It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but felt right after I read it, piquing my curiosity about what’s to come next.
This one was a slow burn for me. I probably didn’t begin to love the novel until I was about a quarter of the way through the book. But, I did grow to love it, and to respect what Abraham was trying to do with his worldbuilding. It does seem to move at a more measured pace than The Expanse novels I’ve read so far, but it also shows the same devotion to telling the story through the prism of its viewpoint characters.
I look forward to reading more of Daniel Abraham’s work.
Firewater’s Some-Errors-You-Can-Only-See-Once-You’ve-Committed-Them Report Card: A
Good political and personal intrigue in a well-drawn fantasy milieu that’s not your typical medieval Europe setting. No wizards. No Dark Lords. No clashes of armies (at least in this volume). But, if it could keep me interested, it should work on you as well.