The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham
The Dagger and Coin series is highly readable and rather compelling and this continues in the very good third book The Tyrant’s Law. The pace and trimming of the standard fantasy fat remain the clear advantages and we begin to see a bit of wider world building to address one of the series’ weaknesses.
The Tyrant’s Law has four protagonists, the first being the titular tyrant himself, Geder Palliako. After the attempted coup by Dawson Kalliam in The King’s Blood, Geder has become paranoid and conjured delusions about a conspiracy in the Timzinae nations to the east of Antea. Buoyed by the stunning Antean victory is Asterilhold, the reach of the spider goddess continues to spread. In the Imperial capital Camnipol, Clara Kalliam, widow of the martyred Dawson, begins to sow the seeds of a rebellion against Geder’s rule as she learns to live among, and love, the common people of the city. In the Southern Timzinae city of Suddapal, Cithrin bel Sarcour continues her training with the Medean Bank, but the spectre of Antean aggression under the command of her former lover Geder hangs over her. Finally we have Marcus Wester and Kit travelling to the southern continent to find a sword which can kill the spider goddess and end her influence on the world.
The snappy pace which defines this series continues very well here, even if The Tyrant’s Law doesn’t quite contain as many shocks as the previous two books. The ancient past of the Dragon Empire begins to come into a bit more focus, with a promise of further world building in this regard for the future books. The best storylines belong the Geder and Marcus, with Geder’s utter self delusion and conviction that he is a great hero being fascinating to watch. Marcus and Kit’s storyline is mostly a pleasantly old fashioned story about finding a magic sword, which winks at the tropes without being annoying. Clara’s storyline is interesting and probably the slowest, but watching her learn how to be an individual without Dawson is satisfying and touching to watch. Cithrin doesn’t quite have as much to do and has probably the weakest storyline, which is mostly focused on reacting to what Geder is doing. These books seem to always have one storyline that doesn’t quite live up to the others, in The King’s Blood it was Marcus, but it’s still all very good.
The effortless way Abraham propels you through the pages is extremely impressive. In terms of sheer readability Abrahams is almost unparalleled and it’s impossible not to find yourself barreling through the book, buoyed by effortless and unpretentious prose. This lightness can have the downside in meaning that more grandiose moments can fall a bit flat, but I’d take this over something that is entirely grandiose any day (I’m looking at you Thomas Covenant).
The characterisation remains strong, with Geder remaining a genuinely unsettling protagonist and villain. I’ve fawned over Geder in reviews for the previous two books so won’t do it again here. Clara Kalliam emerges as one of the best characters; now fully out from under the shadow of her husband Dawson, Clara is allowed to develop into a unique and interesting character. A middle aged widow rediscovering her youth and sexuality is not typical fantasy fare, but Abrahams handles it deftly and makes it feel just as interesting as the quest to murder a malevolent spider goddess.
The Tyrant’s Law is another strong instalment in The Dagger and Coin series. It doesn’t quite propel the plot as far as The King’s Blood did, but the ‘middle book slump’ which plagues fantasy doesn’t appear to be present here. I’m looking forward to carrying on with the series, although with new Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie books on the horizon it may not be for a while.