|This is books 3 and 4 of the author’s The Long Price Quartet series. The first two titles were A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter.
Wow…where to start? This is a huge epic story that starts small and grows huge. I guess I’d better provide background so you can appreciate the whole story arc.
A Shadow in Summer starts the world-building by laying out a world where it is possible to harness great and unimaginable power in a single person by an act of will. This person is called a poet because the process of harnessing the power is dependent on words very exact words that must describe the desired power down to the most basic elements. And that’s a simplistic description. The power is given physical form, an andat, that looks like a human….mostly. And the poet is bound to that andat for the rest of his life. Hopefully, another poet is able to rebind the andat and take over for his lifetime. If the poet dies or the rebinding doesn’t work, then the andat goes free and disappears. These andat belong to a city-state and usually become the main source of income and industry for generations. Now, over the generations, the cities with andats have fought horrible wars and there is now a structure in place that tries to make sure a poet is an ethical person. A powerful and imaginative theme.
So the first part of the story introduces a young man, Otah, who is running from a past and working as a laborer even though he is so much more. In the course of his duties, he stumbles upon a plot by a rival empire (one with no andats) that is intended to corrupt the local andat, kill the poet to release the andat, and then take over the city. When the poet discovers the plot, his already unstable mind decides to use his andat against the transgressors. If he does so, hundreds of thousands will die horribly. And it falls to Otah to decide who lives and who dies.
The second part brings Otah back to his home city at a most inopportune time. His less-than-beloved father is dying and it is tradition that the sons fight to the death to succeed him. Otah wants nothing to do with that tradition and it is just bad luck that he is in town when the killings start so that when all the brothers are dead, at the hand of an unknown assailant, the suspicion naturally falls on Otah. He eventually discovers it is all due to continuing machinations from the rival empire, Galt.
The third part focuses on Otah’s growing realization that his society, the Khaiem, is too dependent on the andat and the mental stability of its poets. In the meantime, a general in Galt has discovered lost texts from the previous empire (destroyed in an andat war) that gives him the ability to destroy all the andats once and forever. But he’s not stopping there; he is so obsessed with the potential threat that has hung over his empire for generations, that he wants to destroy every man, woman and child. And in doing so, he provokes a desperate attempt to bind a new andat to save their society. But it goes badly; and when it goes badly, the andat is able to exact a terrible price for its binding. This book ends with both sides regretting their actions.
The last part is fifteen years later. [SPOILER ALERT} The women of the Khaiem are still barren and the men of Galt still impotent. The last two poets of the Khaiem are in hiding. The Emperor Otah is trying to bring about a peace and a trade that might save both empires. But one poet still hates Galt sufficiently that he is willing to try a binding willing to try anything to stop the Emperor’s efforts. The attempt will probably kill him as all the instructional texts were destroyed along with the most experienced poets; until he realizes he could rewrite the instructions. When he understands that the entire process could be reimagined with a woman poet then he doesn’t need the instructional texts, he just needs to experiment long enough to create a new process. But the choice of andat and the choice of woman will prove a lethal combination.
The worldbuilding is one of the best I’ve ever read. Abraham builds so slowly, so carefully, you hardly notice it happening. And the characters? Marvelously complex and layered. The plot was exquisite. The first two books were so narrowly focused that much about the nature of the andat was obscure because the characters knew what they needed to know and there was no need for exposition. It wasn’t until the author drew his focus back and we could see more of the world that it became necessary to further explain the andat. And what a concept! Wonderful idea of harnessing power without being able to describe if the power comes from completely within oneself or if it has volition. All I can say is: Wow. ~~ Catherine Book