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The Dragon's Path: Book One of The Dagger and the Coin

The Dragon's Path - Daniel Abraham The star rating system is vague and imperfect. My feelings on this one are somewhere between "liked it" and "really liked it," but I decided to give it four stars because if any author deserves an extra star, it is Daniel Abraham. His first published series, The Long Price Quartet, has been named among the best fantasy series of the last decade by just about everyone whose opinion I respect. As a reward for his efforts, he was dropped by his publisher. You could argue that this is justified, since his books didn't sell. You can argue more convincingly that the publisher didn't bother to work very hard to sell what was a rather unusual take on the genre (I mean, from what I have heard, since I haven't read it yet). In an effort to really rub salt into the wound, once they'd cut Daniel loose and he signed with Orbit for his follow-up series, a quintet (of which The Dragon's Path is the first), his old publisher decided not to bother releasing the fourth Long Price book in paperback. This means, of course, that once the hardcovers are gone, no one is going to bother reading it, because why start a series in which the fourth book is impossible to find (even on Kindle, they still want a hardcover price for it, two years after publication).So by all means, Daniel, take your extra star (half-star, really). You have earned it. You've also written a pretty good book!The Dragon's Path has famously (well, internet famously... actually, internet genre blog famously) been called the author's attempt to tackle "traditional" fantasy after the LPQ, which apparently confounded the legion of fantasy readers out there who are ironically unable to imagine a fantasy world that isn't set in a quasi-medieval Europe and doesn't have knights and quests and swords and dragons. So here you go, masses: a fantasy book that with a quasi-European setting. It even has a sword on the cover and the word "dragon" in the freaking title!Ever the smart-ass, of course, Daniel Abraham is only pretending to write a cliched genre entry. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of conventions on display -- a plucky young orphan seemingly destined to play a role in larger events, a war-weary mercenary with a heart of gold, political machinations, a fight for the throne, etc. Stealing from the best, it also apes the structure of George R.R. Martin's HBO-spawning series A Song of Ice and Fire, spinning out the tale through alternating third-person limited POV chapters.I don't know if it is because it is only the first book in the series or because things are being kept deliberately low-key, but I wouldn't exactly say this one is crammed with incident, despite its length (though don't let those 555 pages fool you -- this thing is printed in fifth-grader font with those big margins they use when they want kids to think the book they are reading is as good as Harry Potter). The politics are interesting but not very complex (or maybe I am just surprised because I understood them even without access to some sort of character index, ahem George R.R. Martin and Jacqueline Carey). There are rumors of war but only a few light skirmishes. Aside from one shocking, game-changing event, all the big stuff seems to be coming in future books (not a spoiler, really, but ending volume I with the words, "It has begun" is probably a clue that things are just getting started).Even still, I enjoyed myself. Rather than focusing on big fantasy events, the book seems more concerned with the whos and whys of the characters anyway. Abraham considers all sides of cultural and economic issues that most fantasy books ignore in favor of more plot. The driving force of this volume is, in fact, commerce (the series is called The Dagger and the Coin after all). Our requisite plucky orphan, Cithrin, isn't a thief or an assassin or a mage, she's a banker, and her efforts to found a new bank branch take the narrative in some interesting directions. Here is a book that ends not with a battle, but with an audit. No, really, it was kind of an exciting audit.I like this world, though it is clearly still developing. There's not a lot of magic, but it lingers at the edges of the frame, offering intriguing hints of what's to come. You get the sense that the parts that don't quite fit yet -- like the fact that humanity has been separated into 13 different races with fantastical physical attributes like horns, tusks and gills -- will be developed down the line. No live dragons yet, but at least there's a dragon skeleton. I'm in for book two.