Book Reviews Smugglers Ponderings

Smuggler’s Ponderings: Thoughts on The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

Warning: some spoilers ahead

We were supposed to be posting our joint review of The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham today but alas, Real Life has conspired against us and Thea was unable to finish the book in time. She is enjoying it so far though and will post her thoughts next week.

Meanwhile, I thought I could get this conversation going – because you see, I did not really enjoy the book. But I find it really hard to find words to explain exactly why I did not like it and I have been racking my brains for over a week now.

Hence this post in which I will try to make sense of how I felt reading it.

I’ve been hearing nothing but praise for Daniel Abraham and the books in The Long Price Quartet for a while now. My curiosity was definitely piqued and his books added to my wish list. Then, back in January Aidan Moher of a Dribble of Ink wrote this magnificent review of The Dragon’s Path, the first in Abraham’s new series which did nothing but to make me ridiculously excited about the book. When we got review copies a couple of months ago, that was it, we had to read it.

Basically the story follows 4 characters in alternating chapters as they deal with the rumours of a brewing war: tormented hero Marcus Wester, former soldier who is hired to guard a caravan as it travels across the country; young orphan Cithrin, raised by bankers and entrusted with the task to take a fortune to safer hands which she does, disguised as a man; young aristocrat Geder, who is bullied by his companions for his fatness and his interest in scholarly pursuits; and finally, the powerful conservative aristocrat Dawson whose political machinations are for the best of his Kingdom or so he thinks. There are four main threads and some of them intersect: Marcus and Cithrin for example, travel together in the same caravan. Geder and Dawson are sort of part of the same political circle. This is a very basic outline and the story progresses as each character plays their own roles and some of them quite significantly so.

I admit I expected a lot from The Dragon’s Path and the epilogue was pretty awesome and fired up my expectations even more. A few more chapters in and all the fire had turned into a simmering flame until it was fully extinguished by the end of the novel. For example: I love world-building and mythologies and I felt increasingly frustrated by the fact that some things were introduced such as 13 different races and an interesting mythology with a spider-goddess but never truly explored. The mention of a spider-goddess whose followers are infected with spiders in their blood, was in fact what made the epilogue awesome- and yet we never get to see that again until the very ending of the book, some 600 pages later. The prose itself whilst competent, didn’t leave a lasting impression.

I also find that the more I read the more I became dissatisfied with the sense of familiarity I got from the story and the characters. I realise that to be dissatisfied with this aspect of the novel is perhaps not really fair, seeing as how every single review has mentioned that the book does follow a traditional, well trodden path within the genre.

In all fairness though, even as I did have that sense of familiarity I do appreciate how the story and the characters were not completely clichéd and not only that: some of the choices in the storylines were actually brilliant. I was particularly impressed as to how banking and the economics of funding and surviving a war are central to the story.

But still I couldn’t shake off that sense of familiarity and that has framed my entire experience with the book and the “been there, read that” mantra kept playing inside my head, non-stop. It was in the tortured main male character and it was in the orphan-cross dressing storyline of the girl and so and so forth.

I am as well, undecided on how I feel about the portrayal of Cithrin, the main female character in the novel. On one hand, she is super smart and I love how she is a banker and with a strong interest in economics and how she acts on those interests. On the other hand, the only sex scenes in the book, are as part of her storyline and to some extent her entire sense of worth came from being wanted or not by some of the men she came across. I can’t help but to wonder if she wasn’t reduced to what she could or could not do using her vagina, and not her brains. Please do bear in mind, that I have no problem with said character having sex, or wanting to have sex, god no. But I do have a problem when out of 4 main characters, the only one that has sex, or thinks about sex and when she finally has sex, it is only because she can’t devise a different plan of action to gather information and ends up thinking of herself as a slut as a consequence, is the only female one.

I finished reading the book, and felt a strange mixture of feelings: there was disappointment that I didn’t feel the book was the Next Big Thing even as I saw potential there; conflicting thoughts on the portrayal of the main female character and a vague impression that perhaps it was me, not the book, because after all everybody seems to have liked and I didn’t.

Don’t you hate when you finish a book feeling like that? In any case, I can’t wait to see what Thea thinks.

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  • Megan
    April 29, 2011 at 4:18 am

    I actually felt much the same way about The Long Price quartet. Objectively I could see that Abraham has a lot of skill, and I could see why so many people were fans, but it just didn’t quite work for me. I’m not sure that I will try the Dragon’s Path following that, because you’re right, it sucks when a book leaves you feeling that way. Love or hate please, none of the vague middle ground.

  • Daniel Abraham
    April 29, 2011 at 4:20 am

    I’m sorry it didn’t work for you, but I appreciate your putting in the time and effort to read and talk about it. Thank you.

  • arkib
    April 29, 2011 at 4:34 am

    I think the traditional nature of it is always going to be a sticking point. The Long Price quartet is on the other end of the spectrum. With that series he purposefully tried to do things differently and while it got much critical acclaim I don’t think it sold too well (Tor didn’t bother to bring the last book out in paperback and didn’t bother to sign up his new series which starts with this book). He’s mentioned that he wasn’t necessarily chasing sales with this series but that it was part of a challenge to himself. To try and write some more traditional fantasy which incorporated all sorts of aspects that he thought were cool into the books. I suppose this is where the “been there done that” feeling comes from. I also wonder if knowing that before going on might change people’s perceptions of the book.

    **May contain spoilers for the book below**
    Personally I was ridiculously excited for the book because it’s new Abrahan and the Long Price quartet made me a long time fan (I’d highly recommend that series) but I can definitely see some problems with the first book. It is very much an introductory book (of a 5 book series) and so not all aspects of the worldbuilding are expanded on. Also from some of his interviews I think he wants to write more stories within this world so I gather we may not see everything that is sometimes hinted at in this series. I agree on the writing though, it definitely seems more… prosaic? than the almost poetic and dream-like stuff in the Long Price quartet. Again I’m starting to think this is an intentional choice by Abraham

    I’m actually surprised you mentioned Cithrin as I thought she was portrayed really well. I thought you might have mentioned Geder whom I had much more problems with, especially this one transition during the book. For me Cithrin doesn’t really have a “proper” sense of worth. She’s been raised by a bank and so a lot of the times she does things she goes through that similar mental process, sort of like trading, like saying “What do I have? What do I want? and can I get that with what I have? What would I do with it? Will it help me make a profit?”. Personally I thought she was more upset that she lost and didn’t get what she needed for some of her financial plans rather than that she thought she was a slut and she’d basically been done over by somebody else. So it ties back to her skewed sense of worth again IMO.

    I’ll also mention that I like the way character actions have real conseqeunces in driving the plot forward. Cithrin’s actions in Port Oliva mean that the banking auditor has to leave Antea sooner for example so Dawson’s friend no longer has their backing as they have more pressing matters to tend to. This is something I think Abraham does really well and if the Long Price quartet is any indication, some of these actions will have long term implications in the series (hence the Long Price being such an apt series moniker). I think it’s even mentioned in the blurb: “Falling pebbles can start a landslide”. The other thing is the economy of prose, he doesn’t tend to waste words on unnecessary details. Look at some of the journeys for example. We don’t have whole chapters of them being on the road, because he’s more interested in what happens at the destination. I’d actually be interested in seeing how it stacks up wordcount wise to other fantasy books, even his Long Price books were quite slim but still have almost as much if not more content than much bigger tomes.

    In concluding this long rambly comment. I hope you do try his other books and hope you decide to stick with this series. IMO he’s a wonderful author who deserves to be more widely read so it saddens me when people don’t get on with his stuff although it is understandable (different strokes and all that). Even though things start quite traditionally I think he’s going to start flipping things on their head now that the intro is out of the way, you start to see it during this book even.

  • KB/KT Grant
    April 29, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Dude, half the books I’ve been reading lately give me a strange sense of deja vu. I’m in the middle of reading a book in a very popular series and it has that, been there, done that feel. The author is so trying to be be like JD Robb with her two characters and making them into Roarke and Eve it’s not even funny.

  • Ana
    April 29, 2011 at 4:42 am

    @ Megan – Yes, it does suck doesn’t it? If you decide to try this one , let me know how you feel.

    @Daniel Abraham – thank you for stopping by!

    @arkib – Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I can see your points about Cithrin.

    I am not sure I am invested enough to pick up the other books in this series but I am still VERY interested to read his other Quartet and may try that at some point.

  • Aidan from A Dribble of Ink
    April 29, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Jeez, we disagree again? All is right in the world?


    Solid review, Ana.


  • Deirdre
    April 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the book as much as you thought it would, Ana. I know how frustrating it can be to pick up a book you think you’re really going to like, only to have it not live up to your expectations. A similar thing happened to me very recently with the book Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. I picked it up after hearing a lot of positive buzz about it and after reading a very well-written excerpt online. The book does have lovely prose, but I still have a lot of issues with it that may have a lot more to do with me than the book itself. I’d go into more, but I don’t wish to spoil the book for anyone, especially since it just came out.
    While I did enjoy the Dragon’s Path just as I enjoyed the Long Price Quartet before it, I can definitely see the issues you had with Cithrin’s character, and I even sort of agree with it, though it wasn’t enough to dampen my enjoyment of it. You might enjoy the Long Price quartet, because it focuses more on a varied selection of female characters, especially in the first one, A Shadow in Summer, where one of the POV characters is an older woman who holds a high position in a trading company.

  • Davor Zec
    May 1, 2011 at 4:00 am

    nice book review Ana.
    Sry you didn’t enjoy. 🙁

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