REVIEW: A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The cities of the Kaiehm are under siege from elements who wish to deprive them of their power – the natural spirits they control that aid in both commerce and war. Caught up in more politics and drama, the man named Otah finds he can’t escape his past and instead has to confront a family that disowned him when he was a small child.
PROS: Direct and sharp prose that uses few words to convey meaning; characters who are realistic and complicated; fantasy elements stay mostly in the background
CONS: Not as unique a setting as the first book; very much a sequel.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent sequel to A Shadow in Summer that should be read by those who liked the first book.
Taking place 15 years after the events in A Shadow in Summer, Otah once again finds himself engaged in city politics. But this time is different – the city of Machi is the city of his birth, and the ruler (the Khai) is Otah’s father who disowned him when Otah was only 6 years old. The complicated relationship between Maati (a poet from the first novel) and Otah continues to evolve, as Abraham brings in new characters Chemai and Idaan who form a tight knit group around which the action turns. Seduction, betrayal, love, lies, and lust for power all push these characters in different ways.
It is hard to review this book and this author without referring to George R.R. Martin. I managed to avoid comparisons in my review of the first book, but I find I can’t avoid it here. Like Martin, Abraham shows us characters who are both good and bad, dark and light, and overall human. They aren’t easy to pigeon-hole or peg. The heroes are both flawed and troubled. The villains are charismatic and admirable. The heroes often use their ideas of the greater good to justify actions – such as killing and casting people into exile – that, out of context, are as dastardly as the actions of the villains.
Otah’s sister Idaan is cast as the villain in this novel and in many ways she is as depraved and evil as they come in terms of plotting murder, use of seduction, and driving competing interests against one another. But she is also sympathetic in her attempts to deal with the inequities of a patriarchal society and the way women are treated as property. Even one of her seductions backfires when it is she who ends up in love with the man she seduces and making mistakes as a result.
Also like Martin, the world Abraham shows us is fantasy without much in the way of fantastic elements. I think this a very good thing – it keeps the stories from being driven by a Macguffin at best, or formulaic at its worst. The length of the series and the scope of the grand plot is additionally similar to Martin’s epic. The writing styles are very different and the plotting unique though, so I don’t want to make it sound as if Abraham is ripping Martin off.
A Betrayal in Winter suffers from many of the challenges of being a sequel. It refers liberally to events from the prior book, the world is no longer fresh and new, and the reader is assumed to understand the motivation and emotions of the characters who continue. In my opinion, that doesn’t really detract from the book in any meaningful way. Abraham’s writing style has if anything become more elegant and succinct. I dare you to find a flowery puff passage in this book. I also dare you not to like it – its well worth your time if you enjoyed the first book.
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