In which I (Hanna) and myself (Theresa) talk about Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and Coin series. We’ve also talked about Helldivers and Brandon Sanderson. We stay better on topic this time. The first part is spoiler free, and we’ve noted where spoilers start.
Hanna: Oh boy! Oh boy!
Theresa: Calm yourself.
Hanna: But The Spider’s War is out today! The Dagger and Coin series is finished! It’s done! I can read the end!
Theresa: I am also excited, but really, there’s no excuse for the number of exclamation points you’ve used in the conversation already.
Theresa: Let’s start again, shall we?
Hanna: Certainly. Today the final installment of The Dagger and Coin — an epic fantasy series by Daniel Abraham — is being released by Orbit. I’ve been eagerly anticipating The Spider’s War and I’m very pleased to have this book in my hands.
Theresa: Much better. Why read it?
Hanna: The short pitch: This is marvelous epic fantasy. It’s the tale of a mercenary captain, a young banker, several radically different nobles and an acting troupe.
Theresa: A banker?
Hanna: A banker!
Theresa: The exclamations…
Hanna: Yes. Right. Cithrin bel Sarcour grows up as the ward of a bank. She’s a hero (sort of) who solves her problems with economics. She’s nervous, a bit of an alcoholic, a great mind for numbers and she’s nineteen.
Theresa: Not your average hero. I like that. Next?
Hanna: Marcus Wester. Our mercenary. To be honest, he comes with a bit of a standard, wounded, lost-my-family narrative.
Theresa: Less interesting.
Hanna: In a way. But. 1) He’s extremely well written. The trauma that he’s endured does not always lead him to the wisest path. It makes him eminently understandable and he’s constantly frustrated that he cannot fix everything all at once. 2) He and Cithrin work together a bit and it’s a fun juxtaposition. There are problems he can solve and problems she can solve, but they don’t actually understand each other very well. 3) Yardem Hane.
Theresa: Another character?
Hanna: One of my favorites in an abundance of close candidates. Marcus’ second-in-command is introduced… well. Let’s grab their introduction from Chapter One of the first book:
Marcus rubbed his chin with a callused palm.
“Sir?” Rumbled the Tralgu looming at his side.
“The day you throw me in a ditch and take command of the company?”
“It wouldn’t be today, would it?”
The Tralgu crossed his thick arms and flicked a jingling ear.
“No, sir,” he said at last. “Not today.”
— from The Dragon’s Path, Daniel Abraham
Theresa: Yeah, okay. I like them. What do we have left? Actors and nobles?
Hanna: The actors are… well. They’re actors. Frequently the professions of fantasy characters are not so… recognizable. But if you’ve spent time in theater, you’ll know these guys. You’d have no trouble seeing them linger in a green room today.
Theresa: You’re being cagey about them.
Hanna: I’m worried it’ll lead me down a bit of a rabbit hole to talk about them too much. I’ll leave it at: They are fun, individual characters. Also, in terms of worldbuilding, Abraham nods to the different performative fashions of the towns and cities in his world. It’s a refreshing bit of set dressing.
Theresa: Which leaves us with the nobles. I must say, that’s not nearly as uncommon as bankers for fantasy protagonists.
Hanna: Tisk. If all that was required for great storytelling was originality, we’d have no stories at all.
Theresa: I’m not sure that makes sense.
Hanna: Probably not. Moving on! Clara and Dawson — married old-blood aristocrats. Dawson is an interesting fellow because his opinions are revolting, but he’s written so entirely within his own perspective that he’s still likeable. He’s a fierce, loyal and stubborn character whose conservatism is stomach turning.
Theresa: And Clara?
Hanna: Before I talk about her, I’d like to talk about Strong Female Characters.
Theresa: If we must.
Hanna: There is a tendency of going one of two ways with them. 1) To assert their strength through prowess in committing violence. 2) To make the source of their strength their children. To be ‘mother strong’, so to speak.
Theresa: I can’t help but cringe.
Hanna: I like seeing mothers as characters — but defining them by their children is a problem. And I like seeing women who can kick ass, but again — being able to hurt someone isn’t a great defining heroic quality. Plus it’s usually conveyed by an over reaction. And it’s saying that the way for a woman to be strong is to take on traditionally ‘masculine’ traits. Ooff.
Theresa: And what does this have to do with Clara?
Hanna: She’s a fantastically strong female character. She’s effective, she’s a survivor and clever. And she turns her skillset to whatever she needs to do. She’s a mother. Her children are grown up, and she cares about them and her husband — but they do not define her as a person. She’s dangerous and competent and she doesn’t have to punch anyone to prove it.
Theresa: You’re saying you like her.
Hanna: Yes! I am! I would also say that Cithrin is a strongly written female character. Double yay!
Theresa: There’s one more character you need to touch on.
Hanna: Best for last. Geder Palliako, Viscount of Rivenholm is another noble. He’s the unpopular kid — bullied and without much talent for communication. It’s interesting to get to see politics both from his oblivious side and the savvy side of Clara and Dawson.
Theresa: Okay, there’s a few more things we’re going to want to hit, but there will be spoilers. We have feels. Scroll down at your peril. The first four books are fair game.
Hanna: If you’re stopping here the first book is The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham. It’s a book we both heartily recommend. Here is a picture of an adorable kitty cat to fill the space. Spoilers below!
Theresa: Okay. So. How do you really feel about Geder?
Hanna: Geder is the villain of the piece.
Theresa: It’s more complicated than that.
Hanna: And I dislike him. As a person. I find him horrifying.
Theresa: Then let’s talk about him as a character.
Hanna: Easily one of the best genesis-of-an-antagonist stories to play out over multiple books in my experience. Maybe the best. He’s imaginative when it comes to choices, but entirely oblivious to consequences. He’s spiteful. And people just keep giving him more and more power, because he’s not important enough to be a threat. Until he murders them all.
Hanna: He burns a city to the ground because he’s been embarrassed. Because he read about burning cities to the ground in books. It’s a city — a proper city. Thousands and thousands of people melted and charred. He bars the gates and drains the canals and he burns them alive. What’s worse: It’s so horrific, that he gets praised for it. To do otherwise would admit an unbearable sin. Worse still: You understand his doing it. You understand him. He literally makes me feel sick.
Theresa: A fantastic character.
Hanna: Literally. Sick.
Theresa: So there’s the cast. We’re not doing a whole lot of plot. Setting? Which is where we run into a quibble.
Hanna: So, the book gives us the twelve races of humanity. None of which are terribly well described to start with. Yardem, for instance, is a Tralgu. Hs big and has floppy rabbit-dog ears with lots of earrings, but that’s sort of all I know about his appearance. This gets better the further you get into the series, but at the beginning, it can be difficult to know what every group looks like. However: I’m rereading the first book now, and it’s much easier to visualize than I remember. But I don’t know if that’s the lens of rereading or if I’m misremembering the difficulty.
Theresa: Any other flaws to get into?
Hanna: Yes. I could say it’s not great on some representation points. There could be more sexual orientations. The different races of humanity deal with an array of prejudices and coexistences. Within each race there are other clan and national identities and physical variations. It’s not standard pseudo-Medieval Europe. There are many sorts of heroes in this story and none of the characters are treated cavalierly or casually. There are people who are treated as lesser by characters within the story — but not by the author.
Theresa: Any other aspects of the worldbuild you’d like to get into?
Hanna: Oh, yes. The spiders.
Theresa: Of the titular Spider’s War?
Hanna: Indeed. There is a religion in these books, in which initiates are granted the ability to detect belief. They see it as the ability to sense Truth.
Theresa: What does that have to do with spiders?
Hanna: Oh! The initiates have spiders in their blood. That’s how they do it.
Theresa: That’s gross.
Hanna: Hell yes. Sidebar: There are no women initiates because spiders in the blood make menstration–
Theresa: That’s actually an interesting reason for the exclusion of women.
Hanna: I know!
Theresa: You get excited for weird shit. Do continue.
Hanna: Anyway. One of the central conversations/themes dealt with in the books is the difference between belief and truth. As well as the sort of scary game of telephone that is human communication.
Hanna: When we talk, I mean something that I translate into words/gestures/tone, which then you translate into what those words/gestures/tone might mean for your idea of me.
Theresa: We’re the same person.
Hanna: Okay, bad example. If we were talking to someone else, say —
Theresa: I get it.
Hanna: Right. So. If you think you can tell when something is truth and misunderstand — even slightly — what was said to you and then repeat it in a slightly different way, to other people who will Know you are speaking the Truth… It gets scary fast. Then add power and zealous fervor and weapons. Great, great bit of worldbuilding. And an interesting exploration of several aspects of religion — all dolled up as fantasy.
Theresa: Yeah… that’s frightening.
Hanna: Oh man. I’m so excited to read this last book!
Theresa: Me too. Anything else before we go?
Hanna: Nope. I’m good. The Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham begins with The Dragon’s Path and today the fifth and final book The Spider’s War hits your local bookstore. I’d dearly love to have more people to talk about these books with. As you can see, I’ve resorted to talking to myself about them. So comment below!
Theresa: See you next time.