A Shadow in Summer


Daniel Abraham


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 18, 2009

his novel is the first of a set of four books which together comprise the Long Price Quartet. It has a lot of original ideas in it; for example, the main character is a bright young man named Otah who departs from the rigorous training school because he thinks it is too cruel, despite the fact that he is one of the rare students who show promise - power and position could be his, but Otah would rather work as a day laborer and be content with a simple lot in life.

Another primary character is named Amat - she is an aging woman in charges of contracts and accounts at a mercantile house. Amat has no physical skills, no magical powers, but she does have some keen wits and a strong sense of justice. Amat's understudy is a the beautiful Liat. Liat is an assistant accountant, her goal in life is to hold a position like Amat - a trusted bookkeeper in an important trading company.

Another major character is Maati, who is an apprentice "poet" - but poetry in Abraham's world is really what we call sorcery. This "poetry" is another of Abraham's clever ideas. A poet takes an idea and gives it physical form called an "andat". In this volume, the poet has created the physical manifestation of the idea of "extracting life from its source" this manifestation is a humanoid called Seedless. Seedless looks like a charming human, he walks and talks (though he does not eat nor breathe) but his primary function is to extract cotton seeds from harvested bales of cotton. Seedless is the magical equivalent of a cotton gin. Seedless resents the poet who created him, so he uses his cunning mind and winning personality to concoct a plot to kill the poet who created him. If the poet dies, then Seedless will also die, but at least he would be free.

Another aspect of A Shadow of Summer that I enjoyed was the non-verbal communication between the characters. During a conversation, the characters will emphasize their points with gestures, such as a pose of confusion, or apology. These poses are not actually described, but there seems to be a whole sign language - perhaps these alternate communication is needed because the city of Saraykeht is a hub of shipping between many nations and city states, so there may be a plethora of spoken languages, but the poses and sign languages are univeral.

I would have liked this book even more if Abraham had managed to enfuse it with a sense of epic scale and historical background. However, (almost) all of the action takes place in the city of Saraykeht, and even that city is not explored in detail. But this is only the first book in a series of four, so presumably we will learn a lot more about the culture of the Cities of the Khaiem.

One thing that puzzled me about this novel is the character called Maj. She is a pregnant young woman from the distant country Nippu. Maj seems to be just an ordinary girl, there is nothing special about her (ie: not an aristrocrat, not an heiress, not talented in any particular way) - so why would anyone care about her fate? Her fate is crucial to Seedless' plot, but I missed the explanation why she was important.

A Shadow in Summer was a quick read, the story is interesting enough that I picked it up each night to read further. Fortunately, all the other three volumes are already published, so I can quickly resume the story.