The second book of Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price quartet – A Betrayal in Winter – continues the high quality of the first (A Shadow in Summer – my review here). Set fourteen years after the first novel, the quartet’s second instalment not only offers readers a new tale of court intrigue, romance, and treachery, but also shows how the consequences of the first novel’s events continue to reverberate through the lives of the two main protagonists – Maati and Otah – and to change the fates of those whose paths intersect with theirs. In contrast to the steamy setting of Sarakeyht, the summer city of the first novel, A Betrayal in Winter whisks readers to the winter city of Machi, Otah’s original home. There, tradition dictates that the sons of the Khaiem should kill one another in order to secure succession to their father’s throne. Otah wants to stay out of it… but events conspire to draw him into the struggle. It is left to Maati, his old friend and rival, to ferret out the truth.
It is safe to say that I enjoyed this book as much as I did the last episode of The Long Price. Abraham crafts his plots with a delicacy and intelligence which, whilst making them slow-burners, means that they are emotionally rich and satisfying, gathering tension and effect as they build to their climax. I actually thought A Betrayal in Winter was even more successful than A Shadow in Summer in this regard, the anticipation mounting more palpably than in the previous book.
A Betrayal in Winter introduces us to some great new characters too. The new poet-andat duo, Cehmai and Stone-made-Soft, form a nice contrast to Heshai and Seedless of A Shadow in Summer. In my review of book 1, I said that I’d liked to learn more about the poet-andat bindings, and in A Betrayal in Winter Abraham granted my wish. The binding of Stone-made-Soft, centring around a chess game that Cehmai plays with the andat each morning, sheds more light on how their magical relationship operates, and makes for a truly fantastic scene near the end of the book, where the tension really screams at you from the page.
Abraham also has a knack for creating strong and intriguing female characters. Idaan in A Betrayal in Winter is as different from Amat in A Shadow in Summer as it is possible to be, and yet she is another example of Abraham’s ability to produce complex women with ambitious and uncompromising goals. Like a certain character in A Betrayal in Winter, it is hard to know where you stand with the elusive Idaan. Does she incite hatred or compassion – or perhaps a bit of both? Abraham does a stunning job revealing the conflicting drives within this character, whilst keeping the reader wondering as to what, at heart, her true affiliations are.
What’s more, my affection for Maati as a character really blossomed during the course of this second novel. Abraham takes a risk by making his protagonist a quiet, un-athletic, scholarly figure, unsuccessful in life and in love – but he pulls it off with panache. Maati’s unassuming competence and his helpless quest for approval and forgiveness from Otah make him a truly sympathetic character. I look forward to discovering what he and Otah’s lives will bring them next…
To summarise: like the first book of The Long Price, A Betrayal in Winter is not one for those who require fast-paced storylines with sword-wielding heroes, but if you are searching for a well-written, thoughtful narrative that packs plenty of emotional punch, then you can’t go far wrong with the bittersweet novels Abraham has crafted here.