Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: The Long Price Quartet, by Danial Abraham

There was this fantasy series I loved like a mad thing when I was about fourteen or so, but I won’t say which one as I don’t want to spoil anyone. There was one character in particular I was very fond of, a dashing young prince. The trilogy, among other things, followed Prince Dashing on various adventures until he saves the land and his lady love and lives happily every after.

But the author did not stop with just this trilogy, he went on to write many (many, many) more set in the same universe, one of which was set seventy or so years after the original trilogy. This new trilogy opens with a courier announcing to a country town that the Prince from the first trilogy had died. At 80. By falling off his horse. Over ten years later and I still remember the specific details.

When you think about it, dying of natural-ish causes at 80 is pretty much the most anyone can ask for. And yet, I was gutted. It took me a long time to bring myself to return to the new trilogy, and I never was able to enjoy it fully. It was just too sad, seeing the characters I had loved so much become old and weak. In my mind Price Dashing had exsisted in his prime, but now that memory was replaced by 80 year old dead Prince Dashing. I just couldn’t shake the feeling of melancholy.

Which brings me to Daniel Abraham’s Long Price quartet. I've seen a lot of words getting used to describe these books: Underrated, amazing, masterpiece. And I’m not suggesting that those words aren’t apt, because they are, but for me only one descriptor truly applies; melancholy. Because like mystery author of my youth, Danial Abraham also employs the big jump forward. An average of fifteen years passes between each of the Long Price’s four volumes, so the characters we are introduced to as teenagers in volume one are nearing the ends of their lives by the last.

I mean, yes, these books are amazing. The world building is nothing short of stunning, and the prose is just beautiful. More than once I was stopped in my tracks by the sheer elegance of a metaphor or line of description. But it’s just so sad, watching the characters grow old.

Watching how time ravages not only their bodies but also their relationships with each other. Sad, but also pretty damn impressive. I myself have little experience with growing old, but it feels like Abraham nailed it perfectly. Writing from the point of view of a much older character isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it carries more gravitas in the Long Price. The older character watching the younger character making the same mistakes they did carries more weight somehow when you were in that characters head while the made the mistakes. I don't think I really understood the folly of youth v. the wisdom of age before.

It might be easy to think, with all this talk of aging, that the books lack excitement, (which is exactly what I would have thought, if I’d known about the time jumps before hand). But it’s not the case! Set aside the fact that Abraham's skill grows viably with each book, and so to does our bond with the characters strengthen, the plot of each book just gets more and more thrilling. The stakes are upped in each volume, so where the first books deals primarily with the relationships between the characters, by the fourth volume empires are crumbling. The third volume, An Autumn War, was my personal favourite of the bunch and an excellent example of how to build suspense, and how to build it damn well.

Overall, these books are bittersweet. It’s a unique experience to stick with characters well into old age, (at least in this genre), and watching them age is very sad. But then we also see the birth of new characters, and new hope, which balances out that sadness out. Kind of like real life, I guess.

So, is the Long Prince quartet an easy read? Not even a little bit. But you’d be mad to pass over it.

These books: I purchased

1 comment:

  1. I agree with just about the whole review. The series is some sort of majestic tragedy (as opposed to bleak), at times heart warmingly epic or even joyous but always too earthbound to leave age and death behind.