With the fourth installment of Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin sequence publishing next week, I figured I would repost my review of the third installment, The Tyrant's Law which originally appeared on Tor.com...
Banking and ancient races, these are two of the main forces driving the narrative of the characters of and world events in Daniel Abraham’s The Tyrant’s Law. The novel is the third book of his ongoing series The Dagger and the Coin, and is further proof that Daniel is crafting what is arguably one of the finest long form epic stories of the 21st Century.
The main players of the series have been scattered, following their own character arcs despite each of those arcs being connected to the Lord Regent of Antea Geder Palliako (more on that below). Geder is ruling the empire in the place of the young prince Aster, whose father died in the prior installments. Fueling much of Geder’s power is the growing cult of the spider goddess, churches of which have been established throughout the empire.
Geder’s powerful tyrannical influence in the world has left Clara Kalliam’s family in disgrace, her husband killed and branded as a traitor in the previous novel The King’s Blood. Though she was raised to POV character in the previous novel, she has much more impact and is a greater presence here in The Tyrant’s Law. Clara’s sons have spoken out against their father and one of her sons in particular, Jorey, has re-won the favor of Geder since the two were childhood friends. Meanwhile, Clara’s been cast down the social ladder and gets a better idea of how much of an impact Geder’s tyrannical reign of power is affecting people. From the bottom of society, Clara is moving pieces on a chessboard of her own making in order to take down Geder.
Cithrin bel Sarcour’s past dalliance with Geder provides much tension as she ruminates on how to improve the world from her standpoint as a Medean banker. Her role in the bank provides great access to power and control, though she’s still beholden to the rules of the kingdom as enforced by the word of Geder. Abraham does not provide easy choices for his characters, and perhaps Cithirn exemplifies this most profoundly. While he doesn’t outright torture them in the same way Robin Hobb tortures her characters, Abraham’s character’s decisions come with consequences that are far from pleasant, despite the decision the character makes. It is rarely a ‘best’ choice but rather a ‘least bad’ choice.
The fourth POV character is Captain Marcus Wester, a man who left Cithrin in the previous volume with many unresolved feelings and with little warning to his former ward. Wester is acting as a companion and protector for former actor and apostate of the spider goddess cult, Kit. The two men’s storyline forms something of a quest as the two men search for the heart of the spider herself as well as magical items they hope will help to bring down the cult of the spider goddess. What they eventually find is a more surprising reality than they expected.
I’ve previously remarked in how empowering Abraham’s female characters are – they operate as active characters who take control of their lives rather than react to the men around them. Clara’s story arc was perhaps the strongest, whether this was because she was new or because it was the most complex. The fact that she is a widow is a great indicator that she has a fresh start, Clara takes that proverbial ball and runs with it, awakening many aspects of herself she thought she knew – her mind, her drive for justice, her sexuality. She walks a thin line which divides the surface appearance of her actions and the true intent of her actions. As the series progresses, I suspect this line will only become thinner as her maneuverings have a greater effect on the world at large.
In Geder, the super-villain protagonist arc continues to a greater degree from the previous volume. Despite how other characters feel about him, particularly Clara and Wester, it is difficult to dispute some of the decisions he makes and at times, even empathize with those decisions. He isn’t entirely unlikeable, which adds to his strength as a character. Geder sees himself as acting in the best interest of the land he is ruling. The proactive decisions he makes about the empire and how to enforce its strength and growth, are in some senses, reactions to how he perceives others characters view him. An event towards the end of the novel will likely prove to be the tipping point that pushes him over the edge into true Lex Luthor / Walter White territory and cement him as the human-facing Big Bad of the series.
By keeping the viewpoint to four characters, Abraham gives himself the freedom to provide readers a greater insight to each of the characters and to impart upon them believability, plausibility and empathy. In this sense, the intimacy we get as readers allows us to feel a greater sense of urgency of the epic events of the novel as a whole as they affect both the world and those characters we’ve come to know.
On the one hand, it is difficult to distill into one review the pure enjoyment the settles into me when I read these books (or as I’m coming to realize, anything Daniel Abraham writes). As the pages would slide past, the small movements of Abraham’s narrative come together to former a great whole that informs the novel as it barrels forward with great momentum. I’ve long been a fan of Epic Fantasy and when it is handled properly, expertly, there’s no form of entertainment I’d rather be enjoying. Such is the case with the books in The Dagger and the Coin. Everything he’s done in the previous novels so well, Abraham continues to do well here in The Tyrant’s Law.
The series is highly recommended and so is this particular installment, but with the caveat that you go and immediately read The Dragon’s Path and The King’s Blood.
(This review originally appeared on Tor.com on May 10, 2013)