I can imagine nothing more perfect as a work of fiction than this book. Daniel Abraham has created something that will forever alter my view of what can be achieved with the written word.
As always his prose is like a siren song. He can’t seem to place a wrong word on a page. If you pick up his books you will not set them down until you are forced to or you are finished.
Tolkien mentioned once that The Lord of Rings was the story of the ending of the world of Middle Earth. In that story Tolkien created a beautiful history, mythology and landscape and then he broke it. With the passing of the One Ring and the elves from Middle Earth a new era was being born.
Many authors are unwilling to do this, whether because they are too in love with their creations or because they plan to write sequels or for other reasons is open for debate. Daniel Abraham, however, breaks his world so profoundly that the pieces seem scattered so far they will never be put back together. And they never will. This is a story in the tradition of Tolkien – the ending of a world and the beginning of a new.
It is of interest that these books bear no other resemblance to Tolkien’s work. They are a wholly new kind of fantasy. In fact they don’t feel like fantasy because Abraham has extrapolated the effects of the magic and fantastical elements to their full extremes until the world feel real and non-fantastical.
The most amazing thing about this book is that it is a non-tragic tragedy. The ending is satisfying and real and painful and relieving and sad and happy all at once.
The characters are as real as they have been throughout the series. Fifteen years have passed since the previous book and the characters have aged. With age they have changed. Every character is good, but also flawed in their pride, or arrogance, or ignorance. There are no real antagonists and protagonists. Each character has good reasons for doing what they do.
I might not have noticed this if I hadn’t just read Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords but men and women interact without trying to control each other or belittle each other. This is surprisingly rare in fantasy fiction. Women all seem to think that men are stupid and incapable of taking care of themselves and men all think that women are socialist control freaks. (Having heard some people at work talk I am beginning to think that maybe I am alone in the opinion that this isn’t really the way men and women interact.) Daniel Abraham writes people who work together and communicate.
These people make decisions based on their several abilities and – this is where many authors fail – they are forced to suffer the full extent of the consequences of those decisions and it is frightening. Very few books keep me engaged to the extent that I think about them when I am not reading them. This one had my mind tied up for days until I finished it.
This series deals with some heavy subjects by way of discussion of the Andat. The Andat are thoughts made real, like Stone-Made-Soft, or Water-Falling-Down, or Seedless. They have tremendous power and are held by the poets who spend their lives training and learning to control an Andat. With such power the entire world could be destroyed or made beautiful with the simple thought of a single person. As one character remarks in the book (paraphrased), “With tools like these, how could we think to do good?” Absolute power in the hands of vindictive, imperfect, foolish human beings is a recipe for disaster.
In the end the theme of the books can be summed up with the words of Danat, the son of the Emperor Otah:
“We say that the flowers return every spring,… but that is a lie. It’s true that the world is renewed. It’s also true that the renewal comes at a price, for even if the flower grows from an ancient vine, the flowers of spring are themselves new to the world, untried and untested. The flower that wilted last year is gone. Petals once fallen are fallen forever. Flowers do not return in the spring, rather they are replaced. It is in this difference between returned and replaced that the price of renewal is paid. And as it is for the spring flowers, so it is for us.”
Daniel Abraham has forever altered my opinion of what fantasy can achieve. Stories that were once exciting are now dull in comparison, their prose maladroit and malformed. This has been the best ending for the best series that I have ever encountered. I find it impossible to imagine something ever being better.