A Shadow in Summer- Daniel Abraham:
There are a few authors that I have never read but am really looking forward to reading: Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson and Daniel Abraham. All three are well regarded within the fantasy community. Daniel Abraham is the one I have been looking forward to the most. A close friend of George R R Martin and a fan of his work, I was hoping for a tale that would capture my imagination as much as ASOIAF.
The powerful city-state of Saraykeht is a bastion of peace and culture, a major center of commerce and trade. Its economy depends on the power of the captive spirit, Seedless, an andat bound to the poet-sorcerer Heshai for life. Enter the Galts, a juggernaut of an empire committed to laying waste to all lands with their ferocious army. Saraykeht, though, has always been too strong for the Galts to attack, but now they see an opportunity. If they can dispose of Heshai, Seedless's bonded poet-sorcerer, Seedless will perish and the entire city will fall. With secret forces inside the city, the Galts prepare to enact their terrible plan. In the middle is Otah, a simple laborer with a complex past. Recruited to act as a bodyguard for his girlfriend's boss at a secret meeting, he inadvertently learns of the Galtish plot. Otah finds himself as the sole hope of Saraykeht, either he stops the Galts, or the whole city and everyone in it perishes forever.
Do you ever read a book and get annoyed at yourself for not understanding part of it? You begin to doubt your intelligence or become annoyed at the author for making things too complicated. You then spend half the novel trying to work out what is going on.
Unfortunately this happened to me whilst reading, “A shadow in summer.” I can’t quite put my finger on why this was. I thought it could have been a number of things: Daniel Abraham’s characters all have unfamiliar names for example. Marchat, Maati, Lait, Amat, Seedless, Heshai, Itani are the main cast, but then you have several other characters that all sound the same: Tahi-kvo, Dai-kvo, Milah-kvo. These all began to make sense eventually but initially I found it difficult to remember who was who. Still most fantasy books have odd names, so that shouldn’t have been the problem.
Maybe therefore it was the style in which it was written. Every character adopts a pose to express their feelings. For example Maati might form a pose of “query” rather than have a puzzled look on his face. This happens frequently and I mean frequently. I guess people are either going to love or hate it, personally I hated it to begin with, but it grew on me.
Finally maybe, it is just that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be taking the book in when I began reading it. This happens occasionally and when you’re feeling in that mood it is never best to start a book you are not familiar with.
Whatever the reason, I missed two important bits of information towards the start of the book and spent the next third getting increasingly frustrated and confused as I waited for them to be explained.
Having said that, once I had figured out who was who and got my head round what was going on, I really enjoyed, “A shadow in Summer”. It is difficult to believe that this is Daniel Abraham’s first novel. His prose is assured and he refuses to compromise on the story he wishes to tell. For example, action in the novel is virtually none existent. There is no gratuitous violence to appeal to a wider audience. Instead, what we have here is a real slow burner, focussed solely on the characters and their motivations.
And what good characters they are. Itani, Maati and Lait are all strong protagonists with individual traits, but it is the andat, Seedless that steals the show. His sinister plotting is reminiscing of Iago in Othello, although he does not hide who he is. This is fascinating, as the rest of the characters know where they stand with him, but still are unsure.
For those expecting a fast paced novel, look elsewhere. “A Shadow in Summer,” is a slow paced examination of characters and one I eventually enjoyed immensely. I feel that Daniel Abraham could have explained the event that the book hinged on slightly better, but now I am familiar with the world, I am looking forward to book two.
My rating: 8.2