The Dragon’s Path audiobook kicks off Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin series in superb fashion. Best know for his critically acclaimed The Long Price Quartet, Abraham takes on a more traditional fantasy setting, taking familiar genre tropes and weaving them into a complex narrative of economics and political scheming.
After the fall of the Dragon Empire, thirteen races of humanity survived to establish new kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Antea is a nation made up of only Firstbloods, the most human-like of the thirteen races. In an effort to expand its wealth and influence, Antea plots the conquest of Vanai, a Free City in the south, where the races mix more openly.
With Vanai threatened by invasion, the Vanaian bank attempts to move its treasury before the Antean army arrives. We follow these events through the viewpoints of four primary characters, as they struggle to survive in a brutal world driven by money and power.
Cithrin Bel Sarcour: Cithrin is a seventeen year old Firstblood, who is half Cinnae and was raised as a ward of the Medean bank in Vanai. With the impending invasion of Vanai, Cithrin is tasked with the dangerous mission of protecting the bank’s funds from the invading Antean army. She flees her home disguised as a boy with the aim of delivering the bank’s assets to their holding company in Carse.
Unprepared for life on the road, Cithrin is forced to grow from a shy, sheltered child into a resourceful young woman. Using her flair for banking, Cithrin attempts to establish a bank at Porte Olivia, making some questionable choices along the way. Cithrin is not above using sex to get what she wants, as she manipulates her way into a position of economic power. Hers is a familiar coming of age story, but given an original spin by grounding the drama in the world of banking and money.
Marcus Wester: Marcus is a veteran soldier still mourning the loss of his wife and daughter. The once famed mercenary is now a guard for hire, commissioned to protect the caravan that is sheltering Cithrin, as it travels across the country. The tormented hero uses this as opportunity to escape Vanai before the conflict begins, but soon finds himself becoming Cithrin’s protector.
Marcus is a familiar fantasy archetype that we’ve seen many times before and his character doesn’t really grow much beyond the cynical former hero with a tragic past. However, Abraham presents Marcus as a principled man with a dry sense of humor, which helps keep the reader invested in the character. His growing paternal relationship with Cithrin, who evokes memories of everything he’s lost, also adds to the character’s humanity and becomes one of most involving elements of the story.
Dawson Kalliam: Dawson is an Antean nobleman and loyalist committed to keeping his old friend, King Simeon on the Severed Throne. An elitist, self-righteous, bigot, Dawson seeks to protect the prerogatives of the aristocracy against Curtin Issandrian, leader of the Farmer’s Council, who represents the interests of the common people.
Dawson’s unwavering traditionalism has all the makings of a stereotypical antagonist, but by making him a viewpoint character, Abraham cleverly involves us in Dawson’s struggle to preserve the Antean status quo. We find ourselves emphasizing with Dawson, in spite of the character’s misguided and outdated views.
Geder Palliako: Geder is a low ranking nobleman serving in the Antean army sent to invade the city of Vanai. An incompetent and bookish man whose foremost interest is the knowledge found in speculative essays, Geder is often ridiculed for his scholarly pursuits by the other soldiers. The humiliation that Geder is forced to endure has serious consequence further down the road, in what becomes the most unexpected character arc in the story.
Geder is made a pawn of Dawson Kalliam’s political machinations and soon finds himself rising into prominence, becoming governor of the conquered city of Vanai. After a lifetime of abuse, Geder strikes back and his actions results in the slaughter of thousands of innocents. Geder starts off as a sympathetic underdog character, but his startling actions quickly turn him into an ambiguous figure that has the reader questioning his morality.
Other characters worth mentioning include Dawson’s wife Clara, who features in two short viewpoint chapters, Master Kit, the leader of a theatrical troupe and Marcus trustworthy sidekick, Yardem.
Ancient Dragons and Spider Cults
The ancient dragons divided humanity into twelve different races, all formed from the Firstblood. Other than brief descriptions of each race’s physical characteristics, Abraham doesn’t delve much into these different cultures. The story mostly focuses on the Firstbloods, the dominant race in this world, the Cinnae, described as slim and pale and the Tralgu, who are distinguishable by their tusks and represented in the story by Marcus’ friend, Yardem. There’s an inkling that the thirteen races will play a larger role in future novels, so hopefully Abraham will explore each culture further and expand upon their traditions and way of life. More information about these races can be found on Abraham’s website in the article, An Introduction to the Taxonomy of Races.
Magic takes a back seat in The Dragon’s Path. The only magical element being a strange cult and a mysterious priest named Basrahip. The cult, whose disciples have spiders in their blood and worship a spider goddess in the desert, possess the ability to detect lies and have the power to make others believe anything they say.
The Dragon’s Path is an impressive first installment of The Dagger and the Coin and serves as a solid introduction to the world and characters of the series. Abraham’s prose is, as expected, excellent and he efficiently suggests the impression of a complex world, without succumbing to the usual lengthy details about its mythology and past. He cleverly plays with the conventions of the genre and manages to make standard fantasy tropes feel fresh and unique.
The novel’s real strength however, lies in the journeys of the flawed and believable characters, particularly Cithrin and Geder. You won’t always agree with their beliefs and actions, but you’ll find yourself enthralled by their inner struggles just the same. Pete Bradbury’s narration of the audiobook perfectly complements the story, adding a weight and gravity to the proceedings.
George RR Martin describes the book as “everything I look for in a fantasy.” The Dragon’s Path audiobook is compelling and engaging fantasy that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss.