“"A Shadow in Summer" has been on my to-be-read radar for quite a while now even though I can't quite recall exactly why I put it on the list. But when [a href="http://jawasreadtoo.blogspot.com/"]Jaws Read Too[/a] began her Summer of Series program, I looked over at the first installment in the series, sitting on my to be read pile, mocking me mercilessly and decided it was a good time to commit not only to reading the first book, but also the entire "Long Price Quartet" series as well.
So, I pulled the book out of the pile, cracked open the pages and began to read.
And, again, tried to recall what it was that drew me to the book in the first place. I think part of it was a desire to sample more fantasy novels and to sample series that actually had a chance of being finished sometime within my lifetime.
Reading "A Shadow in Summer," it appears that Daniel Abraham had not only a plan for this book, but also his entire series. And, thankfully, this is an entry in a series that has a definitive plot arc that is resolved by the end of the book. Yes, there are still some threads left open for future development, but it doesn't feel like a massive build-up to a cliffhanger or a 300 page preview for book two in the series.
Instead what Abraham has done is set up a remarkably believable world with some well rounded, interesting characters. Yes, there is a magical system at work here, but reading "Summer" I was reminded of Laura Anne Gilman's "Flesh and Fire" where the magical system was more limited and while there are powerful people within the magical system created here, it can't always be used as a way to easily get out of a situation (aka the equivalent of the sonic screwdriver on "Doctor Who" where its use is defined by whatever situation the script needs to get the Doctor out of without too much effort). The system is also one that the world we're reading about is built around and it has implications both positive and negative to all the various players we see inhabiting the book.
In this world, poets are powerful men who can create andats for a specific purpose. The novel includes one called Seedless who can remove the seeds from things, which is vital to the economy of the setting here. The city is dependent on the cotton crop and the ease of removing seeds is necessity for daily life and the economic survival of the city. But the power extends beyond just the removal of seeds from various plants and into the arena of being able to remove an unwanted pregnancy.
And that plot forms the basis for the political maneuvering that drives much of what unfolds in "Summer." In many ways, the unfolding story is one that can be deceptively slow moving, allowing for the full implications of what's really going on to slowly occur to the characters involved and the reader. Abraham clearly assumes an intelligence by his reader and doesn't have page upon page of infodumps that can bog down many of the bigger fantasy names (I'm looking at your Terry Goodkind). He also avoids the habit of excessive recapping of events and having characters ponder what's gone on before in minuscule detail. The characters do reflect on what's happen, but it feels more authentic and real than I saw in another fantasy book I plowed my way through last summer that could have been shorter had we not had a recap or a character reflection every ten pages.
Thankfully, the novel is also inhabited by a set of fully realized characters, all of whom you'll like and dislike to various degrees as the novel progresses. Abraham takes the tactic of having the characters who serve as the antagonists for the story clearly believe that the story is presenting them as heroes and the novel works better for that. And his presentation of characters as having both noble and un-noble qualities is a nice touch.
And, again, it resolves the main storyline of the novel by the time the last page is turned, even though we have some indication of where things could head for the next novel and possibly the rest of the series.
In short, it's a successful standalone novel and a successful start to an intriguing new series.
Michael H wrote this review Tuesday, May 18, 2010.