In which Hanna and her imaginary friend Theresa chat about the final installment of Daniel Abraham’s fabulous fantasy series The Dagger and The Coin. You can find some other thoughts on the series here.
Theresa: We are pleased to report that we are done with The Spider’s War.
Theresa: Less pleased to report that we finished it at three in the morning.
Hanna: *flails with feels*
Theresa: But that really should say something about the book in and of itself.
Hanna: We loved it, precious!
Theresa: We felt that perhaps a few of the climactic moments were undercut…
Hanna: IT WAS GLORIOUS!
Theresa: … but that given those ‘undercuts’ served a greater theme of the book and a particular character, it’s difficult to see them as flaws, but rather as the author…
Hanna: Making his goddamn point!
Theresa: … um… I was going to say “choosing to be honest to a narrative rarely explored with honesty”. You need to calm the hell down, Hanna. I’m not going to be the only one making coherent comments for this review.
Hanna: Ahem. Sorry. A nasty cocktail of sleep deprivation and feels will do that to me. I shall attempt to remain calm.
Theresa: Excellent, because we are going to talk about The Spider’s War and all of The Dagger and the Coin series with all the spoilers we see fit. Don’t scroll if you haven’t read ‘em.
Hanna: *seriously* Seriously.
Theresa: You are going to be unbearable this morning, aren’t you?
After the kitty are spoilers for all five books of The Dagger and the Coin — especially for The Spider’s War.
Hanna: Oh man… It’s hard to think of this book as the whole book and not as just the final plan/sequences.
Theresa: Yes. A lot certainly happens before The Whole Crew comes together in Camnipol, but whether it’s because we were reading fast or because those portions kind of blend into the storylines from The Widow’s House, it’s hard to tell.
Hanna: Because this is the final book, it’s also what we were reading towards. We wanted to know how it ended.
Theresa: That said, there were a few sequences that stuck out before all the POVs arrived in Camnipol. You seem slightly less blathery now, so I’m going to hand this back to you.
Hanna: Thank you. So. Crossing the pass at Bellin — with Clara, Vincen, Jorey, Marcus and Kit all trying to keep the Anteans from freezing to death. I love that throughout the series Daniel Abraham rearranges who is working/traveling with whom. We’ve seen Kit and Marcus together before, but this book finally brings Clara together with everyone else. Watching respect grow between Marcus and Clara, the comparison of grief inherent in their meeting, Clara’s unconquerable revulsion for Kit, Vincen in general and Marcus getting his only chance to show the reader that he is a damn good commander — all these were lovely notes to be able to pull out of a forced march. It could have been dreadfully dull and it wasn’t.
Theresa: Character work for the win?
Hanna: Character work for the win.
Theresa: Now… Cithrin’s brief affair with Barriath?
Hanna: A footnote! Which is awesome! The young woman does not get a romantic subplot! The older woman gets an epic one! FANTASTIC!
Theresa: You’re slipping a bit there.
Hanna: I know. But really. I love that Cithrin’s character growth when it comes to one night stands is going from “I’m using you and will be betraying you in business shortly” to “Pity sex” to “You’re quite pretty. I want you.” And that her unironic and absolutely cheerful conclusion from her experience with Barriath is maybe she will be capable of being in love with someone and having sex with them someday.
Theresa: I was a bit worried that Cithrin and Barriath were headed for a more normative romantic subplot. While I don’t object to them as a couple in principle, I’m glad it wasn’t part of the story.
Hanna: Clara and Vincen on the other hand, are in the middle of a true love conquers all style story without ever being a cliche, bless them. The chilling way Clara’s son Vicarian lays out what he sees in their affair is heartbreaking and I’m extremely glad that Clara and Vincen ended on a “we may not be able to be together in a super codified way, but to hell with anyone who thinks that our being lovers makes us less” note.
Theresa: Okay, I think we can start talking about the Camnipol meetup.
Hanna: Can we? There’s one more thing that I think needs to be addressed.
Theresa: Ah. Yes.
Hanna: Geder pushing children into the Division.
Theresa: So. This was a viscerally nasty scene. But we expect Geder to be this level monstrous, so does it work?
Hanna: It’s not surprising in the way Geder burning Vanai is in the first book. Which is sort of a problem, because ordering a couple hundred children pushed into a vast ravine loses some horror when it generates no surprise. He commits multiple atrocities on an unimaginable, genocidal scale and that becomes both hard to process and painfully predictable.
Theresa: Which ultimately leads us to leapfrogging the climax and talking about war and war crimes.
Hanna: And also Geder’s death.
Theresa: Good riddance.
Hanna: Yes. So. Geder gets a heroic death. He chooses to stay at the top of the Kingspire, distracting the spider priests and being burned alive along with them.
Theresa: Dying well: not always redemptive.
Hanna: It’s not enough by a long fucking shot to redeem him. It’s also weirdly unsatisfying to give him a semi honorable moment just before he dies. But when I think about it, it supports a larger idea of the book: Payback is unsatisfying. Futility of revenge and all that. Geder’s death is semi-unsatisfying because it’s not enough. His life is literally not enough to pay for what he’s done.
Theresa: Which leads us to “What would be satisfying?”
Hanna: And to the answer: “Nothing.” Geder could have been tortured everyday for a hundred years, and it wouldn’t have been enough. He burned a city with the people locked inside. Pushed children off a fucking bridge. Enslaved the Timzinae. There is no punishment that absolves that, no death horrific enough to satisfy. Which, essentially, is the point made by Karol Dannien existence in the books.
Theresa: And of course, there is the influence of the spiders to consider.
Hanna: Given that Geder uses the spider priests’ influence to justify what he’s done internally — and sidesteps the guilt/responsibility — he doesn’t get bonus points for that. Dark magic is certainly afoot, but Geder’s desire to murder anyone who laughs at him didn’t come from Basrahip. I really appreciate in the structure of the books 1) That he burned Vanai before finding the spider priests and 2) That the characters don’t forget that.
Theresa: Cithrin asks if Geder thinks about all the people he’s killed and his response is “Not really. Why?”
Hanna: Monster. Well written, well executed and disturbingly understandable monster. And when I’m calling him a monster, I’m not trying to simplify the character. Part of what makes him monstrous is his flirtations with ‘good’.
Theresa: The spiders in general?
Hanna: So good. A monstrous religion for our monster. The distinction between belief and truth. The schism that comes with the imperfections of language, communication and understanding when certainty is complete. Damn. Just. Damn. It’s one of those ideas so elegant that you feel like you ought to have seen it before. Though I can’t think where we might have.
Theresa: Aside from real life?
Hanna: Don’t be cynical.
Theresa: That’s part of my job.
Hanna: Harumph. Moving on. What else do we want to talk about with this?
Theresa: There are a scattering of things: you haven’t said much about the players, though we love them.
Hanna: True. We love them.
Theresa: Or perhaps Inys could use some attention?
Hanna: The image of the dragon clinging to the Kingspire and breathing fire into it is stunning. I do feel like a little more setup for the protagonists’ betrayal of Inys would have been nice. Felt like a bit of a high handed switch, even with the petulant guard murder.
Theresa: Anything else?
Hanna: There’s a lot to love here. I love a lot here. And I could definitely spend another couple thousand words dissecting this series.
Theresa: But there is a limit.
Hanna: A limit. Absolutely.
Theresa: And I think we’ve reached it.
Hanna: Yes. Conclusion: The Dagger and The Coin is a sneakily inventive and subversive fantasy series wrapped around unglorified adventure and remarkable, consistently human heroes. As with all good things, some melancholy is expected at the end, but it’s really good to know how the story comes out.