This book was read as part of Jawas Read, Too!’s “Summer of Series” reading challenge. To learn more, click here.
I have spent about a year referring to this book as The PRINCE of Spring. Not PRICE, but PRINCE. In fact, I think I may have even referred to the book under the erroneous title when asking the author when the mass-market paperback would be appearing! How embarrassing! It’s no wonder neither Amazon nor BN.com would pull it up if I typed in the title!
At any rate, when I realized I was going to participate in the May portion of Jawa’s challenge, I knew I couldn’t simply read books two and three and wait around for the fourth to come in mass market. I had to have the last book, and frankly, I think my investment was well-spent. What a lovely conclusion to the series.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Fifteen years have passed since the devastating war between the Galt Empire and the cities of the Khaiem in which the Khaiem’s poets and their magical power known as “andat” were destroyed, leaving the women of the Khaiem and the men of Galt infertile.
The emperor of the Khaiem tries to form a marriage alliance between his son and the daughter of a Galtic lord, hoping the Khaiem men and Galtic women will produce a new generation to help create a peaceful future.
But Maati, a poet who has been in hiding for years, driven by guilt over his part in the disastrous end of the war, defies tradition and begins training female poets. With Eiah, the emperor’s daughter, helping him, he intends to create andat, to restore the world as it was before the war.
Vanjit, a woman haunted by her family’s death in the war, creates a new andat. But hope turns to ashes as her creation unleashes a power that cripples all she touches.
As the prospect of peace dims under the lash of Vanjit’s creation, Maati and Eiah try to end her reign of terror. But time is running out for both the Galts and the Khaiem.
Review style: We’ll wrap up my examination of women in the Long Price Quartet, discuss the cyclical nature of the series, and discuss some finer points the plot and discuss its themes. Spoilers, spoilers, everywhere. If you haven’t read even the first book in this series, don’t read beneath the cut until you’re all caught up. Just skip to the “My Rating” section for now, okay? Everyone else, read onward!
Discussion: I really, really wish I remembered the finer details of A Shadow in Summer a little better, because even though she’s been mentioned in reviews and in the later books, I don’t remember much at all of the forced-abortion plot and Amat’s role in getting revenge. I just don’t remember. And the reason I did is because I’m forced to sit back and really re-examine these books in terms of feminism and women’s roles in the story. To do this any sort of justice, I wish A Shadow of Summer was as fresh on my mind as the last three (guess I should’ve sucked it up and re-read the first, eh, ?)
In Jo Walton’s review of A Betrayal in Winter, she calls this a very feminist series, and wonders why it didn’t get noticed for the Tiptree. That took me off guard, as did Abraham’s comment to her post that the sexual politics of the books don’t get discussed much at all.
That’s interesting. One of the first negative reviews I read for A Shadow in Summer was furious at Abraham’s treatment of women, and while I couldn’t argue with the reviewer due to my distance from the book, it did make me pay attention to the role of women in the rest of the series.
I think that review was a bad one for me to read, in that it made me hyper-aware of something I didn’t need to be hyper-aware of. This review made me think that Abraham was treated his female characters negatively, so I started looking for patterns. That’s not to say that without said review, I wouldn’t have noticed the pattern of cheating women, but I’m not so sure I would’ve have been quite so focused on it.
Fact: how one views sex and sexuality is a personal and moral thing. We can’t escape it. Our views are shaped by society and experience, and we live in a society that–despite Hollywood’s insistence otherwise–still views sex and sexuality as a BAD THING.
In a nutshell: if a man sleeps around and/or has many partners, he’s congratulated. If a woman does the same, she’s a whore.
I don’t take cheating lightly, which is kind of odd, because to my knowledge there’s never been a cheater in my family, nor have I been cheated on (and I haven’t been a cheater). So I have to ask myself: if the women in Abraham’s novels are cheating, why jump to the conclusion that these women are bad and therefore the books aren’t feminist in some way?
My husband and I had a conversion once that I don’t fully remember, and he, being who he is, definitely doesn’t. But the gist of it was this: if a woman cheats, it means she’s unhappy with her current relationship, but if a man cheats, it’s not necessarily for the same reasons (because he’s bored? I don’t remember, and neither does the hubby). Looking at the books from that light, the actions of Liat in book one and Idaan in book two make more sense: neither woman was happy in the relationship she was in, and cheating was a way to either find some kind of happiness with someone else or take control of SOMETHING in her life or set herself up to be broken up with. And all of that applies.
In book three, we think that Kiyan cheats, but the truth of the matter was that Sinja was hopelessly in love with her and was rather vocal about it, and Kiyan had to set him straight in order to keep the peace and save her marriage. Kiyan wasn’t unhappy with Otah, so it makes sense she didn’t cheat.
In this last book, we kind of see a bit of a cheat, but it doesn’t count as a cheat for a few reasons: Ana has a lover when she’s promised to Danat, a lover that she probably would’ve gotten tired of and disposed of if this forced marriage hadn’t come up. So in that sense, when she and Danat start talking to each other and start having feelings for each other, it doesn’t count as a cheat. Not in my mind. And frankly, I’m spending too much time on cheating and less on the overall feminism of the series. But I wanted to sketch it out because THAT was what I’d zeroed in on, and that’s why I was surprised when Walton called this a feminist series.
It’s feminist in that women are stuck in a patriarchal society and forced to live by patriarchal rules, and the women are doing everything they can to intentionally or unintentionally subvert that system. Leaving book one aside because I can’t remember for the life of me Amat and her role in it; in book two we saw Idaan wishing she’d been born a son and acting in a manner as if she were. She wanted to be Khai, but since she couldn’t have the title, she did everything so that her lover could take the title instead.
In book three, we see Liat and Kiyan team up and save the city of Machi when the men march off to war. This is the mark of transition, where women are taking up duties that were previously considered beneath/hands-off to them. We also see a break of tradition regarding womens’ roles when Eiah starts working for a physician.
In book four, we see Maati teaching women to be poets, creating a new grammar based on the woman’s experience. We see Eiah as a fully-fledged physician, who hates that her father’s view of the women of the Khaiem is based on their inability to have children and are therefore deemed unimportant. We see Vanjit, a woman so scarred by war that she uses her powers as a poet to become the most dangerous woman in the world (clearly rising above her station and using “motherhood” to do so); lastly we see Ana and Issandra, the former a headstrong girl who’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants, but who also realizes that what she thinks she wants may not be what she needs, and Issandra, who represents the idea that behind every man, there’s a woman pulling the strings (and I say that lovingly).
It’s telling that while The Price of Spring finally brings the conflict between Otah and Maati to light (oh, how far that little prolog took us!), it actually centers around two women: one with the power to destroy the world, and the other with the power to heal it, if only the former doesn’t get in the latter’s way.
This is what makes the ending of this book so fitting, because if you put aside gender and focus on character, that’s what it boils down to: flawed people doing the best with what they have. Good people do “bad” things and “bad” people do good things. Everyone is flawed, and everyone is trying to do what’s best for their country and their world. Maati, despite his mistake in allowing Vanjit to bind an andat, was right in trying to find a poet who could right the wrongs of Sterile. Maati’s biggest mistake was his intention: he wanted to bring back the past, wanted the world as it was. He still wanted to destroy Galt. That’s why Eiah’s choices with the andat are so powerful. She’s a physician, whose very oath is “do no harm,” and she literally heals the world. And then, in the most surprising move of all, she lets her andat go.
That’s a powerful moment for me: in the past, women weren’t allowed to be poets, and the men who were enslaved the andat for generations. A poet of the past might say that women were to weak to endure the struggle between poet and andat (and certainly, Vanjit was too weak, but not because she was a woman, but rather due to her experiences of war and desire for a child), but even if that were a valid point in that society, who’s to say that the andat were truly necessary? Sure, they made life EASIER on the Khaiem, but at what cost to the rest of the world? We saw that price in book three, and frankly, I think the world, let alone the Khaiem, are better off without the andat. After all, it’s too much power for one person to hold, too much power for one person to use wisely, and there’s too much hate on the part of the andat that’s directed at the poet. All andats desire their freedom, and they’ll fight tooth and claw to get it. Why should any person bear that burden?
One thing I kept wondering, and again, I keep wishing the first book was fresher on my mind, was how all of this would’ve been different had Otah not made the decisions he did in the prolog. If he’d become a poet, he likely would’ve become Dai-kvo, and maybe he would’ve seen what others could not. Maybe the world would’ve not been changed by Balasar Gice’s campaign. But I doubt it. I think this would’ve happened regardless of who was Dai-kvo. But I do wonder what would’ve happened if Maati had never known the school was a test. I think he would’ve failed, but then, where would that have taken us? It’s an interesting question to consider, a question that no doubt plagued both Otah and Maati, but it’s not a question that’s easy to answer, unless you’re the author, of course.
One thing I love about this series is it brings to mind cycles and Buddhism. The individual titles of the series reminded me of a movie I saw once: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring. Not that the stories are the same, but both have roots in the cycle of nature reflecting the cyclic nature of humanity and an individual’s life. I find these themes reinforced in so many ways through-out the books, but especially at the end of The Price of Spring, when Danat is giving Otah’s eulogy:
“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.”(p. 147)
This resonates with me in ways that are difficult to describe. In many ways, I think it defines the title of the book, but reflects too the title of the series itself. The Long Price Quartet. The long price of a single action, taken in the prolog of the first book, and follows through the lives of two men, inevitably tied to each other for life. Like I said, it’s difficult to explain why this resonates with me so, but I suspect if you’ve read the series, but time you get to this passage and you really think about what it means, you understand.
We never did get any kind of confirmation about Nayiit’s son. That would be Otah’s grandson, left in Saraykeht, when the invasion came. Was he killed? Is he still out there? Abraham could’ve answered this efficiently via Maati’s POV when he’s reflecting meeting Liat after the war is over. Just a statement, and that’s all we’d need. Would it have been too much to think that perhaps Maati might want to be a father to the son of his son? I wish we knew. I’m assuming the kid is dead, mind you, but I wish we knew definitively.
One thing that really worked for me in this book was the stark contrast between Otah and Maati. Short of the prolog and epilog, these are the only two POVs we get, and that really tightens the narrative. I love how palpably bitter Maati is, how he imagines all these luxuries Otah lives with, how he imagines the way Otah conducts himself, and how we actually see Otah live. One example: Maati imagines Otah dining with all kinds of people, when in fact, Otah eats alone. I also liked how both were plagued with sight problems: Maati’s was literal, whereas Otah desired a clarity of mind. Nice parallel, there. Another enjoyable parallel was how Maati kept a book to chronicle his struggles and desires, whereas Otah wrote letters to Kiyan doing very much the same thing.
I loved than Vanjit’s andat took the form of an infant. That was chilling, cruel, and awesome.
The poses in this book are struggling to come back into regularity, but are still often hampered by people posing while their hands are occupied, or hampered by the Galts who know very basic forms but no nuance. They become completely irrelevant when blindness strikes the Galts and some others like Ashti Beg, the Kae’s, and Eiah. What’s the point of posing to convey meaning when the audience cannot see it?
The book is heavy with the questions of right and wrong. Over and over we wonder, do two wrongs make a right? Yes, the Galts destroyed the Khaiem, but does that give the Khaiem the right to destroy the Galts? It takes a long time for anyone to acknowledge this hypocrisy, to ask if two wrongs make a right, and even then, no one really looks at the issue for what it is: racism. The Khaiem versus the Galts, and people like Maati and Vanjit can’t see past their hate to realize that despite what the Galts have done, they too are people.
But I do love how every action that’s taken by Maati or Vanjit, it thoroughly affects more than just the Galts. Yes, blinding the Galts destroyed much of that nation, but it also destroyed cities of the Khaiem, because the Galts were going to help fend off the attack. I love this in the plot, this whole cause and effect, how things happen and the consequences are more than you’d expect, but yet are so logical.
Oh, and you know how I mentioned in my last review that each book ends with a kind of exile? The same is true here, only we don’t get exile, but the death of Otah Machi. And that, in many ways, is quite poetic.
My Rating: 8 – Excellent
The Price of Spring is definitely an excellent wrap-up to the series. I love seeing how, over the course of the series, we not only see the growth and change of characters (oh, how far they’ve come!), but also, we’ve seen the destruction and creation of a world. I love how seriously the author takes the role of magic and the andat in this universe, because one of the major questions this book raises is that if the andat are basically little gods, what does it mean when a man (or woman) is the only one who can control them, especially considering the andat are made in the image of the poet, who is always, no matter how much testing s/he’s been subjected to, flawed. I love seeing which poets fail and which succeed and what the cost of each is. I love seeing the society shattered and in transition and re-created, as that allows for more than the re-examination of andats in society, but also it allows for the re-examination of all other traditions, including the roles of women. Now that I’m done, I agree with Jo Walton in that a person could view this as a feminist series, but it’s sneaky. Sure, the protags are men and some villains are women, but when you boil it down, it’s the men that screw up the world and the women who save it. By the end, it’s a beautiful thing. The series itself is a must, whether you buy it in mass market or paperback. Each book tells its own complete story, yet none of them are stand-alone, and each book builds on the lessons of the ones before. So for those of you who have to wait for a series to be complete before you invest your time and money, this one is more than worth it.
On a somewhat related note, Abraham has become a must-buy author for me. I was already devouring his urban fantasies written under the pseudonym M.L.N. Hanover, and during the course of reading this series, I ended up buying all four books in hardcover, even though I already owned the first three in mass market paperback. I’ll never doubt again: according to Wikipedia (and we all know how accurate THAT is), he’s got a five-book series on the horizon called The Dagger and the Coin and I am SO THERE. Until that day, though, I’ll content myself with his collection of short stories, Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, which will hopefully arrive soon. I can’t stress how pleased I am with Abraham’s work, and it’s easy for me to recommend anything he’s written so far.
Cover Commentary: I really love the colors in this one. It’s very spring-y, and while author’s name is a wee bit too big for my tastes–but!! The fact the author’s name is bigger means he’s more popular!–it’s a lovely cover, and I applaud Stephen Martiniere for the work he’s done on this series. Hopefully, he’ll do the art for Abraham’s next series as well!