Review: Does the concluding novel in Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet deliver?

Is it possible that Daniel Abraham's new novel, The Price of Spring, is the first post-Bush, Obama-era fantasy?

Surely the book has been gestating for much longer than Obama's young presidency. It's the conclusion to The Long Price Quartet, whose three prior volumes were A Shadow in Summer (2006); A Betrayal in Winter (2007); and An Autumn War (2008). So Spring was definitely not written overnight as a direct response to Obama's election, or even to his candidacy.

But on the other hand, it is given to authors of fantastika to be prophetic, and Abraham might well have sensed and reflected a subterranean change in the national attitude and mentality when composing his Quartet.

The reason I posit such a symbolic role for the novel (above its vast value as entertainment) should be obvious from this capsule description: The book concerns life in a ruined economy where the only path to survival is for old enemies to reconcile and for a new "feminine" and sustainable approach to power and technology to take hold. Sounds pretty similar to contemporary headlines, doesn't it?

In Abraham's subcreation, 15 years have passed since the warring nations of Galt and Khaiem went down together in a fit of mutually assured destruction. Before their disappearance from the world, the magical beings known as andats cursed the rival folks thus: All the women of Khaiem would be forever infertile, as would all the men of Galt. The only way for the two races to survive would be to interbreed. But even this far along, cooperation is stinting.

We follow one thread in the person of Emperor Otah as he seeks to unite the two realms. This is the political sphere, and Abraham portrays the Machiavellian, realpolitik maneuverings in glorious detail. The second sphere is the magical. The "poet" (wizard) Maati believes the andat can be re-summoned, but this time employing a "woman's grammar." He sets up school and finds a star pupil in the person of Vanjit. But Vanjit and her success exhibit a fatal flaw, which comes to be corrected only when all seems lost.

For most of the book, an elegiac, entropic ambiance and tone persist. Otah and Maati are elderly, "two old men chewing over quarrels from their boyhood." They represent a failed order that has to abandon its hold on power. Abraham succeeds in making us feel the weight of time—some 50 years—covered by the Quartet before he delivers the satisfying final resurrection and capstone. Even then, it's bittersweet. Death is real; no rebirth is possible for individuals, only new generations. As he says in the epilogue, "The flower that wilted last year is gone. ... Flowers do not return in the spring, rather they are replaced."

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