The Spider’s War
Release Date: March 8, 2016
In 2011, Orbit published The Dragon’s Path, the first volume of Daniel Abraham’s fantasy series “The Dagger and the Coin.” Five years and four books later, The Spider’s War brings this superlative series to a close – and what an epic and satisfying close it is.
“The Dagger and the Coin” incorporates many aspects of what we have come to expect in a sweeping fantasy tale: warriors and ancient, enchanted weapons, political intrigue that spans warring nations, a supernatural element that dresses as religion, exotic races and cultures, and oh yes – dragons. But unlike other fantasies, it includes not only battles and royalty, but major plots surrounding traveling performers, a regent with no designs to retain power, and… wait for it… banking (hence “the Coin” in “The Dagger and the Coin”). And amazingly, it works.
In this final book of the series, there are resolutions to many of the overarching plotlines while leaving the future of Antea and the greater world open. Conflicts may have officially ended, but prejudices remain and far too few hurts have been assuaged – enough to give all a sense of relief, but without defaulting to the standard “and they all lived happily ever after.” This is how it should be; there were no easy answers throughout the five volumes, so the ending, while satisfying, lends itself to a continuation of the personal sagas of those who remain. Not as a potential continuation of the series, but as a pique to the reader’s imagination.
What has worked so well in the series, and is brought to such wonderful fruition in The Spider’s War, is the anomalous nature of virtually all of the main characters. Take, for example, Cithrin bel Sarcour. This young, pale Cinnae woman has grown from orphaned ward of the Medean bank to its outspoken mouthpiece whose financial strategies end up influencing the encompassing conflicts through a shrewd understanding that those who control economies can dictate terms to the conquerors. Yet her agenda goes beyond material gain to a truly noble attempt to stop not only this war, but any war: to remove the need for war. Cithrin, however, is no angel. She can be quite cold and calculating, able to use those who have come to trust her; she builds friendships so she can betray them, she is able to turn a blind eye to suffering if it keeps her from accomplishing her goals, and she drinks way too much, often alone.
Or take Lord Regent Geder Palliako, for all intents and purposes the arch villain of the series in that it is under his rule that war marches across the world and atrocities are meted out, often by his direct and knowing command. Worse yet, his cruelties are often flamed by his own personal sense of inadequacy and underlying lack of maturity. If someone hurts his feelings, he lashes out at whatever is available. Yet Geder never sought out his position or the power it wields; he was installed as Lord Regent due to machinations of those scheming against the royalty, whose plots go spectacularly awry. He wants nothing more than to hand over to Prince Aster a strong, moral and prosperous kingdom when the young man comes into his ascendancy, and then retire to his modest familial estate to study ancient manuscripts – the only thing he’s ever truly enjoyed. Unfortunately, it is Geder’s lack of acuity and his utter gullibility that sets up much of the harshest tragedies of the series.
There’s the deposed dowager baroness who gains insight in her fall from grace, and who, upon her reintroduction to society, works undercover to bring about the fall of the empire even though her sons are caught in the crossfire (and who further takes on a much younger, lower caste lover and has an inordinate fondness for pipe smoking). And the priest on the run who harbors in his blood the greatest threat to all the races, but is also their strongest hope. And let’s not forget about Inys, the last of the great dragons, whose war against his kin may have been a catalyst for creation as well as the cause of the world’s embedded strife. Thank heavens there’s Captain Marcus Wester, former war hero and now mercenary, and his stolid lieutenant Yardem Hane, who give a wonderfully developed yet “normal” trope to keep the reader grounded in epic fantasy.
Having followed these characters for five years and five books, seeing them grow and age, sharing with their triumphs, their despairs and witnessing each of their sacrifices, it could be hard to see such a saga come to an end. But author Daniel Abraham continues to follow his consummate flair for unconventionality to the very end, refusing to succumb to sentimentality even while pulling at our heartstrings, and keeping his characters true to who they have come to be over the arc of the entire series – for better or worse.
If you haven’t already read any of the books in “The Dagger and the Coin” series, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning with The Dragon’s Path and make your way to the end – and lucky you for being able to read the entire span of the tale without having to wait for the next book to come out! But if you’re like me, and have been following along for years, I think you’ll agree – all the way to The Spider’s War, it’s been well worth the wait.
~ Sharon Browning