The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham
The Spider’s War is a very interesting end to a strong series which plays out its final conflicts in a manner I think little could expect. Not every character apotheosis is successful, but enough are to make this a satisfying conclusion.
The resistance against the Antean Empire and the cult of the spider priests is growing on multiple fronts as the forces of Geder Palliako begin to fold in upon themselves. The Antean forces are badly overstretched and an army is marching on Camnipol to take revenge. Meanwhile, pamphlets spread by Cithrin bel Sarcour are revealing the truth of the priests’ power and the people of the world are beginning to wake from the slumber of the spider goddess. Marcus, Cithrin and Clara turn their aims towards obliterating every spider priest from the face of the earth and maybe put an end to war itself, whilst Geder grows more and more unstable.
For those hoping for a big military clash between an army led by Marcus Wester (perhaps with the dragon Inys at his back) and Geder’s Antean forces, you’ll be disappointed. This novel contains a dearth of big battle scenes, with the most spectacular in the series remaining the Antean attack on Porte Olivia and the takedown of Inys from The Widow’s House. The Spider’s War is oddly pacifist, with characters avoiding fighting and conflict as much as possible, with a notable exception which slightly undermines the novel’s message. The themes of the series are finally tied together; this is a series about the movement from the violence of the dagger towards the violence of the coin. There are rumblings of a sequel series and I’m wondering that where this one is a critique of war the next will be a critique of capitalism. It would certainly be interesting to see a world move on from hurting each other with weapons to hurting each other with money and greed. This series has overall been extremely thematically successful in a way few sprawling fantasy epics can achieve.
Most characters continue in their interesting directions, particularly Cithrin who has changed utterly from the frightened little girl fleeing Vanai all the way back in The Dragon’s Path. Clara also has a very satisfying story; I’ve never been much of a fan of the gossiping court noblewoman intrigue plot which is so bizarrely prevalent in fantasy, but Abraham has done a good job of making it interesting through the wonderful character of Clara. Not every character is handled so well, with some moments and final twists which feel a bit unearned. There were some moments where it felt like Abraham was pulling back from pulling the trigger. I don’t think a finale should just be a series of cheap shocks, but I think Abraham could perhaps have thrown at least one mindbender our way. Once the path towards the end in clear, everything happens pretty much as you would expect.
The Spider’s War is a worthy finale to a really enjoyable series. There are massive threads left dangling for a follow up which I certainly hope happens. I may never have taken to the world building of this series, but I most certainly took to the characters and I’d love to see them again and any new ones Abraham creates for us.