Series Review: The Dagger and the Coin by Daniel Abraham

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Genre: fantasy
Series: The Dagger and the Coin #1 - #5
TDP: 555
TKB: 501
TTL: 497
TWH: 495
TSW: 492
Source: all purchased

All paths lead to war...

Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.

Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.

Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.

I am going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, and when not the spoilers will be whited out inside parentheses. (Like so, for an example.)

The Dagger and Coin spans five books, thousands of pages, and contains a rather large cast of characters from heroines to antiheroes to the truly vile. It can seem an intimidating series to start, but Abraham has a steady hand on the wheel for all five books in his WWII-inspired fantasy world. Even when the series seems to be headed along a certain path, there are plenty of twists, turns and creative ideas to keep veteran readers engaged and surprised. If the story can seem too large in scope at the start, the author's vision is far-reaching and capable. 

The first two novels make for an impressive if occasionally uneven introduction to the fictional world and the invented races. The worldbuilding shown is little more sparse than I'd like to see for the first book especially, but what is provided is intriguing enough to lead to questions and hunger for information and more books in the series. Another positive for the series is that this isn't just a pseudo-Europe setting. The second book somewhat meanders around but the seeds of Geder Palliako's arc are really established here. He grows from in menace and The King's Blood also sets the stage for book three, The Tyrant's Law, in a really unexpected way.

Daniel Abraham is consistently clever in his approach to his 5-book series. He does some new things and plays with new spins on old genre ideas and tropes, and that extends to both character and plot. Over the course of these many books, I grew to care about nearly all involved. There were of course favorites in the multitudes: Marcus Wester and Clara Kalliam. One is somewhat of a genre trope and the other is a complete surprise; not many fantasies feature the POV of a middle-aged married noblewoman (who also gets a romance with a younger man once widowed and also LEADS THE RESISTANCE). But Clara is much more than a wife and mother, as Marcus is much more than the washed-up mercenary he appears.

So many epic fantasies seem to base their premises along the same familiar lines. And while war, injustice, prejudice and strife are key themes to all the Dagger and the Coin novels there's also the addition of Cithrin Bell Sarcour's unique plot arc. I really love that one of these books' main and important POVs is an (rogue) underage female banker who uses math and economics to fight against the forces of her enemies. It's unexpected and Daniel Abraham makes it work so well and without infodumping or sounding like an AP economics class. Cithrin's role is pivotal in all the novels; as an individual with agency, as a catalyst for others -- both good and bad. But Cithrin is a great element of the story; she mixes up the scenery and the plot and the stakes, and she does it smartly.

The way religion and magic are used in all five book is another strong and original aspect to this series. Abraham intertwines the two and creates a compelling, threatening secondary antagonistic force besides/with Geder Palliako. The Spider Priests abilities and culture is unique to Abraham's imagination and presents a very real, very hard to fight evil arrayed against the heroes (and antiheroes).

The author has impressed me with these five books. They are consistent and inventive and like to turn expected fantasy tropes on their head (I will never forget the "let's just kill the goddess and we will be saved!" plot twist. Brilliant and unexpected ploy to spin that trope). The best of the characters include a teenage girl who fights through bank loans, a widowed and badass (former) baroness (who now spies and plots while marching with armies), and a mercenary captain who's (killed kings, controls the last dragon in existence), and is waiting for his second-in-command to rise up and steal the company.The main human villain is spoiled, self-indulgent manchild who invaded several countries because a woman rejected him and he lucked into power. Because he was laughed at, or felt confused. Basically...he's an MRA/Trump in a fantasy world and he is CHILLING in his echoes of real humanity.

Also, The Dagger and the Coin one of the few series with no sexual abuse on the page. A fantasy series with no rape is so refreshing and so sadly hard to find. There's still plenty of grim and darkness to be found in its pages -- after all, this is inspired our real world's horrors in WWII. Every book was good, entertaining and complete in itself. There were three four stars, sole three and a half star - with the series last offering being its best and highest rated at 5 out of 5 stars.

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