Silent, upon a peak, in Darien: Daniel Abraham’s The Price of Spring

A lot of fantasy, just as much as science fiction, is about worldbuilding, and when we talk about fantasy series a lot of what we talk about is the way the world works. Tolkien mentions that The Lord of the Rings became the story of the world’s end and passing away before the beginning and middle had been told. While Tolkien has been copied in many things, few other fantasy authors have copied this. Maybe they want to write sequels, or perhaps they love their worldbuilding too much. Abraham’s work is about as unlike Tolkien as you can get within the same genre. I find myself thinking of Shakespeare more often. But in this he has taken from Tolkien’s model: he isn’t afraid to set out his world and show it profoundly broken, changed, becoming something else.

What can I say about The Price of Spring? Specifically, what can I say about it that isn’t a spoiler for the whole of the rest of the series? Maybe only this: this is one of the best and most satisfying endings of a fantasy series that I’ve ever read. I can say that the boy protagonists of A Shadow in Summer are in their sixties in this volume, and that there are protagonists of all ages. I can say it’s about hard choices and without villains, and that the choices have the inevitability of the things the characters would choose, and yet it’s a hopeful book, not a despairing one.

Or maybe I could quote a little bit, and that would give you a feel:

“We say that the flowers return every spring,” Danat said, “but that is a lie. It’s true that the world is renewed. It’s also true that the renewal comes at a price, for even if the flower grows from an ancient vine, the flowers of spring are themselves new to the world, untried and untested. The flower that wilted last year is gone. Petals once fallen are fallen forever. Flowers do not return in the spring, rather they are replaced. It is in this difference between returned and replaced that the price of renewal is paid. And as it is for the spring flowers, so it is for us.”

I think this volume would stand alone, but you should nevertheless read these books in order to enjoy them to the utmost. (Discussion from here on contains series spoilers.)

It’s fifteen years after the end of An Autumn War, and the destruction of the war and the doom wished on the world by the andat Sterile is still unresolved—the women of the Khaiate and the men of Galt are sterile, and after all this time it’s still proving difficult to have any kind of reconciliation. Otah, now emperor, is working hard on one that involves marriages, and Maati, poet in exile, is working in secret on a women’s grammar for binding new andat.

It’s a real achievement to find a satisfactory happy ending from this point, and I was delighted at the way Abraham pulled it off. This is the fastest moving and most exciting of all the volumes. The first time I read it I raced through in one day, and I put off starting it this time until I knew I’d have time to settle down and read.

I love the way the story reaches back to when Maati and Otah were boys, and I love the way the new generation, Eiah and Danat and Ana, want to focus on the present and the future. Abraham understands that both these things are important. I love the way that the andat Clarity-of-Sight, made by childless Vanjit, is a baby rather than an adult, and yet how it is still an andat plotting for its own freedom and to mess everyone up. One of the points of An Autumn War is that the andat are actually a terrible idea, and that is reinforced here.

One of the wonderful worldbuilding touches in the series is the gestural language of the people of the Khaiate, the way they can take poses asking for clarification with an undertone of resentment, or irony, or whatever nuances they like. This is a tiny part of the books, but part of what gives the world so distinct a feel. I also liked that the Galts don’t do this, that they have to learn them and do them clumsily and without nuance. And I thought it was utterly appropriate that by the end the poses were passing out of use.

I can’t think of anything I’ve read for a long time where the conclusion was so appropriate and satisfying, in the manner and inevitability of tragedy but without being tragic.

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