Sunday, 15 September 2013

Abraham's The Tyrant's Law fails to bring the heat

From The Week of September 9th, 2013

Belief, no matter its form, is a powerful thing. It nourishes us when we are alone, it motivates us when we have no drive, and it sustains us when all hope is gone. It is the kindling that keeps lit the flame of life which burns in defiance of a hostile universe. And yet, belief has its drawbacks. For while it can push us to be more than we are, belief is not inherently wise. It offers strength, not guidance; will, not insight, a truth that helps to explain why the most ardent believers have often, in the history of our species, also doubled as our most violent and destructive members. Both sides of this coin of faith, the good and the pernicious, play substantial roles in the third entry of Daniel Abraham's engaging Dagger And The Coin series.

The day that no one thought would ever come has arrived and the empire of antea, forged in the ashes of a war now more myth than reality, has fallen. Its ruling sons, once so powerful and pompous, have either been swept into early graves, or corrupted by the priests of a newly ascendent faith that only a meager few understand well enough to fear. For this religious order has the sanction of antea's Lord Regent, Jeter, a man of middling talent who has been plucked from obscurity to be the most powerful man in the known worlds. And given that they have placed at his disposal their singular talents, of sniffing out lies and convincing the weak-minded of their own twisted truths, he is not likely to relinquish his dependence upon them anytime soon.

Cognizant of the crimes of these mysterious priests, a small group of scattered dissidents, who are barely aware of each other's existences, agitate against them. Some choose to do so from within the empire, in hopes of undermining their power. Others, meanwhile, seek out answers in the form of relics and riddles that might well shed more light on how to defeat them. At times, their individual missions appear hopeless. And yet, answers live on in the history of the world, answers that might open a window to a future none of them can imagine.

Lacking the tightness and the drama of The Dagger and The Coin's first two splendid entries, The Tyrant's Law is, nonetheless, an entertaining bridge to what is to come. Mr. Abraham has created a host of characters, from the loyal to the traitorous, from the humorous to the mad, that are as well-drawn as they are tragic, overmatched souls who must somehow find a way to persist in the face of horrors that would make gods take note. They are the work's virtue, establishing an emotional tether between reader and work that won't easily be broken.

Mr. Abraham occupies a fascinating place within the genre of fantasy fiction. For while he is understandably counted among the first ranks of the wave of gritty scribes who have helped boldly navigate Fantasy into new and exciting waters, he does not exhibit the same cynicism as his fellows. The labors encapsulated here are as overwhelmingly atlasian as they are in works by Abercrombie, Morgan, Martin and so on, but they harbor a certain measure of good humor and even hope in lieu of world weariness, a promise of warmth that may not lead to softness but that is nonetheless present throughout. That seductive suggestion, that hint of something more, is here in spades.

And yet, though Mr. Abraham brings his able pen and his cast of engrossing misfits to bear here, the necessities of the plot fail him and us. The Tyrant's Law is almost entirely consumed by the moving about of chess pieces which may well pay off down the road, but that here leave the reader feeling as though he's slogging through mud. There is plenty of movement and machinations, even of blood and manipulations, but these seem like mere dress rehearsals for what's to come, the breath taken before the fall. Required, yes, but no more tolerable for knowing it...

The Dagger and The Coin is just the right amount of inventive and familiar, violent and thoughtful. And for this, it should be celebrated, but this will never be remembered as one of its better entries. Here's hoping for better to come. (3/5 Stars)

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