This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Blade of Dream will be released July 18, 2023.
After The Long Price Quartet soared up my all-time favorites list, Daniel Abraham became a must-read author. And I sure wasn’t disappointed with Age of Ash, the first entry in his Kithamar Trilogy, so it goes without saying that I would be back for Blade of Dream. And lo and behold, I liked this one too.
[Note: while this is a review of the second book in a trilogy, the nature of the series is such that it does not contain major spoilers for the first book.]
The Kithamar Trilogy is structured a bit differently from a standard fantasy trilogy. We are told in the prologue about the death of the city’s ruler, after a reign of just one year. And each of the three books cover the entirety of that year, but from the perspective of different characters. Age of Ash is written from the perspective of a thief who finds herself wrapped up in magic and intrigue beyond her comprehension, whereas Blade of Dream turns to the son of a merchant house and the daughter of the prince himself. The lead of the previous book appears once or twice, but always on the fringes of the action, never mentioned by name.
With a gap of well over a year between books, I was concerned that I might have forgotten so much of book one that it would inhibit my ability to follow book two. I needn’t have worried. It’s just not that sort of series. The perspective characters are totally new, and while the antagonist from the first book appears again, it’s approached from an entirely different angle, and I had no trouble following the action.
But while Blade of Dream may not require distinct memories of the events in Age of Ash, it does require plenty of patience for a slow-building plot. The first book may be a slow build, but it at least drops a murder and a mystery into our laps to draw the reader’s intrigue. The second mostly just sees the two lead characters chafing against social expectations—one against the arranged marriage that will restore his family’s fortunes, the other against the inability to develop real relationships that don’t start and end with awareness of her station. This leads to rebellions that certainly matter to the characters, but their significance to any sort of epic plot remains opaque for much of the book. To enjoy it, readers have to enjoy digging into the small-scale plots, trusting that their engagement will be rewarded.
And because it’s a Daniel Abraham book, that engagement is bound to be rewarded. Anyone who is back from Age of Ash—let alone from a slow-building series like The Long Price Quartet or The Dagger and the Coin—knows to expect a slow burn with a tight character focus that eventually opens up into something epic. It’s his style, and he does it very well. Personally, I didn’t find myself quite as engrossed as usual in the first half, but it’s still well-told, and if I wasn’t completely engrossed, I was at least interested. Perhaps as I age, the “teenagers chafing against their familial expectations” hook gets a little bit less compelling. But impulsive as they may have been, they grew into a pair of really solid characters.
And once the pieces of plot start falling into place, the story accelerates quickly. Suddenly, I found myself invested in the characters, remembering key plot points from the first book, and on the edge of my seat about how this side of the story would go. It was everything I expect from an Abraham novel—exciting, intricate, and thoughtful, with a tight character focus that never goes away.
Compared to Age of Ash, I think I liked the first half a little less and the second half a little more. But they’re both excellent reads on their own, and they’re mutually supporting in a way that makes the whole better than the sum of its parts. I’m really enjoying this series and am excited about the third entry.
Recommended if you like: slow-burn, character-driven epic fantasy; Abraham’s other work.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s a Sequel that’s Published in 2023, it’s hard mode for Mundane Jobs if you count city watches as cops and not soldiers.
Overall rating: 17 of Tar Vol’s 20. Five stars on Goodreads.