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.