Remember high school? The best years of our lives, right? Sure. For many of us those four years were incredibly difficult, dealing with the spoiled preppies, the privileged jocks, and the punishing bullies. That’s because we were on the bottom of that caste pyramid, content to try and fade into the woodwork, which sometimes worked and sometimes simply led to swirlies anyway. Now we look back on that experience and thank God we survived.
The world inhabited by the characters in Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path is amazingly similar to what we remember of high school, just on a much grander scale, with warlike implications and grudges that are centuries old. It is told from various perspectives representing the different social and economic divisions in the society central to the book. While each faction is interesting in its own right, it is the individuals who draw the reader in closer, that demand to be understood and appreciated in their own right.
Representing the bullied and oppressed at the beginning of this dynamic series (there are at least three books to date) is Geder Palliako. He comes from a family that is neither noble nor particularly exceptional, but he gets lucky during the course of a battle and we are forced to change our view of him and his possibilities. In fact, I would venture to say that he becomes the most important character as he exacts his revenge on those who bullied him.
In the opposite corner is Dawson Kalliam, a highly born nobleman with a spectacular estate. He and the king grew up together and have an impressive personal history. But he is worried about his country, and as the book progresses we see the true depth of his loyalty expressed in ways we wouldn’t have expected. While he was the popular “kid” that everyone loved to hate or were jealous of, getting inside of his mind reveals a lot more.
The other two major characters are Cithrin, a slight girl with grand ideas, and Marcus, a soldier who has taken it upon himself to protect her at all costs. Both have complicated histories, and intricate futures that seem woven together after they meet. But just like everything else in the society there are extenuating circumstances and diversions they have to deal with in order to merely survive, much less flourish.
What I love most about The Dragon’s Path is its ability to thread a tale between the four characters, not unlike what George R.R. Martin does with his Song of Ice and Fire series. Abraham, however, takes the extraordinarily magical as well and puts it into service from the very start, daring readers to contradict the power it has over everyone, from the lowest to the highest in the book’s caste system. This book is the first in his The Dagger and the Coin series, and it sets up the world very nicely, getting readers caught up in the successes and failures of its protagonists. We are invested, and that’s the mark of a good story told well.
I recommend The Dragon’s Path to anyone who likes questions that don’t always have answers, or at least answers that we can approve of, because not one of the characters is entirely sympathetic all of the time, but neither can we hate any one of them constantly. The characters are for the most part well-rounded, which is the important mark of good, quality characters. The plot, however, tends to drag on occasion when we’ve spent too long with any one protagonist. The book moves along best at a fast pace, switching seamlessly back and forth between perspectives. But it’s a good start to a series that I will read to its conclusion.
I give the novel FOUR AND A HALF stars.