As an indie author, of course, I come across indie books that I think are shamefully under-read. As a fantasy reader, equally do I come across traditionally-published books that feel shamefully… over-read. But rarely do I find a trad book that is shamefully under-read. Let alone a quartet.
But I’m here today to bemoan one to you: The Long Price Quartet, by Daniel Abraham.
Stop here if you’ve read it. You, I’m sure, will have no need of me going on at length about the originality, beauty, twisty-turniness, and poignancy of this series. You know.
Only, I’m guessing you are not one of the few. Rarely do I see this series come up in online discussions, even as Abraham’s co-written The Expanse series is a powerhouse in SF/F discussions, and his second epic fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin, gets a fair amount of love. I have read all of these. I love all of these. I count Abraham as a deep influence on my own writing. And yet, taken as a whole, I would say the best of them is the least known. This brings up two equally interesting questions: why, and why.
Let’s start with why—as in, why The Long Price Quartet is the best. That’s easy: what do people love fantasy for? For clever magic, you may say. Okay, how about a world of magician poets, who train for years to write one, perfect verse—and when they do, they control the god that poem has summoned? And when they fail, they die horribly? One of the hidden strengths of Abraham’s writing—and you see this in The Dagger and The Coin too—is how well he imagines the ramifications of his magic, extending out into the economy (imagine what the god Stone-Made-Soft does for the mining industry, or Flows-Toward-Sea can do for agriculture), as well as into his poets, and across cultures.
I digress. Why, again, do people love fantasy? For epic settings, you might say. This, again, is a force to be reckoned with in The Long Price Quartet—not only because these divine poems make for a fabulous world, but because Abraham is damned good at drawing us into it. Every writer aspires to paint their world in all five senses. Abraham nails it, with language that stays as rich and vibrant on the last page as it is on the first (you’ve probably read some books where the first chapter was the best-written? Not the case here).
For compelling characters. I can’t even start with the people making these stories move. The poets—many of them royal sons who’ve abdicated their inheritances to prevent wars of succession—and the rich ways they look at the world, the family ties and they way they separate as much as bind, the lovers… one thing I love in particular about this series is how love (both true and mistaken) pushes his characters to do glorious and awful things. Love is a great motivation. The best motivation. But I again digress.
I said we needed to ask why, and why. I think we’ve answered the first question—LPQ’s under-read status is shameful because the books are so damn good, in all the ways that we love fantasy books to be. So now the bigger question—why? Why have we ignored this quadruple gem of awesome tucked into the rear shelves of our collective and fantastical library?
This, I don’t have pat answers for. Perhaps the books, Ned Stark-like, are too good to exist in our current world. Or they are a little too literary, though I lean decidedly towards good story versus pretty prose, and I adore them. Or they came out at that awkward time before Game of Thrones had hit and fantasy in general was in a bit of a lull?
The short answer is that this question, this why, is more of a wounded cry on my part than a real query. A rhetorical shout to the gods demanding justice for books that made me weep and stay up far too late on many a night.
Or maybe just a shout to you, dear reader, that if you’re looking for a book that does all these things, and moreso does them beautifully, then I’ve got a quartet for you.