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“The Tyrant’s Law” by Daniel Abraham


I felt that the second book in Abraham’s “The Dagger and the Coin” series was a significant improvement on the first book so I was hoping the upward trajectory of the series would continue with the third book in the series. I think in some ways it was a step up with some of the best character development in the series and some of the best writing, although it does suffer slightly in comparison with “The King’s Blood” due to the lack of any single event as compelling as the revolt in Camnipol.

One of the criticisms I had with the first book was that although a significant element of the world-building was that the world was inhabited by thirteen races of humanity which had been designed by their dragon overlords to have different traits we saw relatively little of the more exotic races. All of the protagonists were from the vanilla Firstborn race, with the exception of Cithrin who was half-Cinnae but had been raised in a Firstborn household and who had little connection with her heritage. Although there had been many characters from other races in the supporting cast in the previous book it isn’t until this book that they really start to play a major role in the story. While much of the first two books took place in the Antean Empire this book does seem to make more of an effort to show more of the world with Marcus and Kit journeying to the southern jungles, eastern mountains and northern tundra in an increasingly desperate attempt to find a way of fighting back against the powers of the Priesthood who have come to dominate the Antean Empire and who seem intent on conquering the rest of the world. Cithrin spends most of the book in the city of Suddapal, and Abraham does a good job of showing the contrast between the Timzinae society who make up most of the population of the city and the Firstborn societies that have been seen in earlier books. The change in culture also has an interesting effect on Cithrin’s character as the chance to see things from a different perspective does seem to assist her character development.

I had thought that Cithrin’s character development had stalled a bit in “The King’s Blood” (after having been one of the best characters in the first book) but this book does give her better character development and also provides some explanation for some of her sometimes uncharacteristic behaviour in the second book. Geder has now completed his journey from sympathetic dupe to delusional tyrant and he continues to be a compelling and detestable character. One of the strengths of the series is that it does manage to make even his more extreme actions seem plausible from his (admittedly very skewed) perspective and also makes it plausible that the Antean Empire has allowed itself to be manipulated into taking part in a crusade against the blameless Timzinae. One Antean who hasn’t been manipulated into following Geder is Clara Kalliam and she gets one of the strongest plotlines in the book as she attempts to quietly undermine his rule despite her lack of resources. Fantasy novels often tend to focus on warriors or heroes with great destinies and it is refreshing to have a plotline focusing on a middle-aged woman fighting against a tyrant armed with nothing more than an in-depth knowledge of Antean society. Marcus is probably the most predictable of the protagonists, he can always be relied on to try do what he believes is the right thing (even if it isn’t necessarily wise) and he doesn’t have quite as much depth as the others but despite that he is an entertaining character to read about. The supporting cast also continue to be strong, particularly Kit and Yardem, their interactions with Marcus being a particular highlight.

This is the middle book in a five book series and at times it does feel very much like a middle book, it has plenty of character development and progression in plotlines but arguably it lacks any really major events until the final chapter of the book. The final chapter does have ending which manages to be surprising despite being blatantly set up by the prologue and it does set up a potentially fascinating plotline for the later books in the series. The epilogue is also a highlight, showing things from a completely different and surprising perspective that sheds a new light on many aspects of the backstory of the world. Elsewhere, Marcus and Kit’s journey around much of the world does provide some of the highlights of the book, including an exploration of a long-abandoned temple and an amusingly anti-climatic raid on an enemy stronghold.

Abraham has always been a good writer, in both this series and his “Long Price” quartet, but he has some particularly good passages in this book, often coming from Kit and Marcus’ dialogue although some of Cithrin’s conversations with Yardem and her hosts in Suddapal are also good at succinctly summarising some of the themes of the series.

After a slow start “The Dagger and The Coin” has developed in a very good fantasy series. At times “The Tyrant’s Law” does feel like a lot like the middle book that it is and plot resolution will have to wait until later books in the series, but it does have some good character development and it does a good job of adding depth to the world the series is set in.

Rating : 8 / 10


“Shift” by Hugh Howey


I enjoyed “Wool” a lot; while it did have occasional flaws I thought it was a compelling story in a distinctive and memorable setting. Since the ending of Wool was an obvious set-up for the sequel it’s slightly surprising that the second book in the trilogy is actually a prequel, beginning centuries earlier with the establishment of the Silo and ending with the final scene in Wool being told from a different perspective.

It’s an unusual move for the middle book in a trilogy –technically it is three short stories in the middle of a series of novellas, but the stories have a common thread running through them so the Omnibus edition does feel like a novel. I think there are some understandable reasons for having a prequel since it does set up some major plotlines for the final book, but I also think it is in many ways a mistake.

I think the biggest problem with this prequel (and many other prequels) is that it spends a lot of time explaining things that didn’t need to be explained and which, in many cases, were better left unexplained. One of the strengths of the first book was that to begin with the Silo was a strange and mysterious world and even by the end of the story there were still some mysteries left unexplored. Unfortunately, the author seems to have decided that every detail of the background, no matter how trivial, needs to be explained despite the fact that the explanations often don’t add anything to the series and aren’t particularly interesting to read. I doubt many readers were really desperate to see the moment when a character decided on the design of a book cover for a book that we see in Wool, but there is a scene in the first story where this is shown, admittedly it’s a brief scene and other it does serve other purposes but it still seem an unnecessary thing to include in the book. I think the biggest problem with explaining so much about the world is that the more explanation is done the less plausible it all seems. This is particularly true in the first story which partially takes place before the apocalyptic event that lead to the society of survivors being established in the Silo. The basic premise of the cause of the apocalypse isn’t too bad, but although a lot of time is spent explaining why various characters took a decision to do the things they did none of the explanations are sufficient to make their decisions seem plausible. I don’t think it would have been impossible to make their actions sound vaguely plausible (although far-fetched), but the characterisation is too weak to make it work with none of the characters feeling as well-developed as the protagonists in Wool. The conspiracy that plays an important part also seems implausible, the book does attempt to justify this by having one character argue how easy it could be to hide a big secret, but that seems like a weak attempt to distract from how unlikely it is that so many people are willingly involved with such a crazy team and how nobody else seems to notice what is going on. The world-building is also unconvincing, it is meant to begin about 40 years in the future but apart from a couple of scientific advances the world barely seems to have changed.

I think Howey’s strength seem to be scene (which made up much of the first book) which show a character or a small group of characters trying to do what is right while under extreme pressure. He doesn’t seem to be as adept at scenes which need to portray a wider world and he sometimes seems to struggle with character interactions. The under-written romance between Juliette and Lukas was the weakest part of the first book and the second book has similar problems. Donald is the protagonist for much of the book but his interactions with other characters seem to vacillate between him being placidly allowing himself to be manipulated (while apparently being incapable of noticing that other people have agendas) and occasionally taking abrupt and decisive action when the plot demands it. I think his journey from being a dupe to trying to take control of the situation could have been an intersecting character arc but it felt like we were told that he has suddenly gained the ability to take control of his own destiny but we weren’t really shown why he is suddenly more capable than he was at the start of the book. It can be interesting for a book to have an unlikely hero, but it’s more of a problem when he’s also an unbelievable hero.

The prequel storyline isn’t entirely unnecessary. It does introduce some interesting new aspects including some mysteries which are presumably going to be explained in the concluding book in the series. I think some sort of prequel may have been justified, but it’s a pity that it spends too much time focusing on the wrong things.

Although much of the book does focus on Donald’s story, two inhabitants of the Silo, Mission and Solo, also get their own plotlines, with Solo’s story being a prequel to his appearance in Wool. I think these parts of the book worked better because it allows Howey to return the type of story he seems most comfortable with. Solo’s story in particular shows how prequels can work well, even though we know how things are going to turn out and there are few revelations it does still manage to have some powerful and poignant passages, and he is a more compelling character to read about than anyone in Donald’s plotline.

In summary, this is a frustrating book which spends a lot of time trying to give explanations which are both unnecessary and unconvincing. It was still entertaining to read and did have some good sections (Solo’s story probably being the best bit of the book) and it does set things up nicely for the concluding book in the series, but overall it is a bit of a disappointment. Hopefully the final book in the trilogy will be a return to form that manages to recapture some of the strengths of the first book.

Rating 5/10