Author: Daniel Abraham
Reviewed Format: Hardcover
Release Date: August 21, 2007
For Otah Machi and Maati it’s been 15 years since the events A Shadow in Summer. The end of that book saw a happy, if wary ending for Liat and Maati. Otah was troubled by his friend’s confession and preoccupied with the Galtic involvement threatening thousands of innocent lives. As Betrayal in Winter opens, we discover things have turned out quite differently for our protagonists, except, perhaps, for Otah, than when we left them.
Otah’s father, the Khai Machi is dying. Already there are rumors about which brother will be the first to strike and begin the murderous journey to the throne. Ignored for being a woman, but operating under the radar is Idaan, Otah’s sister, who is determined to marry for love, not obligation. The Khaiem isn’t kind to women and the roles they are expected to play in society, but Idaan refuses to be contracted out of the family. When her brother is suddenly found dead it’s the worst news to come: already the killing has started and the Khai is still alive. Idaan’s chance at a prosperous marriage is in danger of dissipating. Eager to discover Otah’s involvement, if any, in the murder, the Dai-kvo sents Maati to investigate without arousing suspicion. There he finds a library and a curious young Poet with a large andat who frequently reminds Maati of his failure to successfully bind Seedless. Will Maati’s new assignment be met with success--will he draw Otah out into the open and clear his name or will he discover a new, deadly secret about his one time friend?
A Betrayal in Winter is a fantasy of politics and court intrigue. With a healthy dose of betrayals, murders, and conspiracy it’s no wonder the pacing is sped up from the slower meditations of A Shadow in Summer. This difference is not only noticeable, but pulled off with an expertise I’ve come to respect of Abraham. As a sequel, I wouldn’t expect anything otherwise. It doesn’t fail to deliver, especially from the prolog (which is long, like the epilog--I don’t think Abraham could write a shorter one). The lapse of years between books was unexpected, but not unexplained. Despite the years, the events in between the books are doled out by pieces until by the end we discover Maati’s slow-crushing downfall that led to his new assignment and Otah’s journey to escape his past yet again. A lot has happened; seeing familiar characters so much changed by events outside of the text is only part of what makes A Betrayal in Winter so innovative and refreshing.
Because we aren’t just catching these characters immediately after we last left them, they’re allowed to grow and change without our supervision. At this point, they could be different characters, with different lives that wind up making an interesting sequel. With its convoluted plot riddled with drama and a dynamic cast of characters, Abraham has given readers a book and series (of the epic variety) worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. This is a series that could easily span generations as the inclusion of children bodes portentous outcomes. Already the difference in time between the first and second novel beg for a scale not constrained by any one group of characters, but of their influences and the consequences of their actions. Otah’s decision to leave Machi has, as it turns out, ultimately decided his fate for him. There is indeed a long price to pay for this and other events throughout the two books already.
I like how different Machi is from Saraykeht with an economy built around metal mines instead of the textile industry, not to mention the changes in weather and way of living. Once again I’m impressed with the spiritual, supernatural beings that are the andats treated as slaves eager to escape their earthly prisons. The relationship between Poet and andat is organic and complex, as hated as it’s been made necessary. The game that Cehmai and Stone-Made-Soft play is exemplary of their constant struggle against each other.
Both, however, are products of a long-standing tradition, one of many in this world. Otah, for example describes the succession to his father’s throne as an “idiot system” (p. 219), a definition I’m inclined to believe. Andat and poet, Khai and sons, women of the Khaiem--all are constrained by ritual and tradition with aged foundations and made miserable in the process. Of those groups, women took the spotlight in this book with Idaan as a new character point of view. She made for an interesting choice, one that I’m not sure compliments the way women have been portrayed in this series so far.
Of the few women we’ve been introduced to, Amat seems to be the strongest example of what’s possible for a woman to accomplish outside the ordinary bounds of society. In A Shadow in Summer she may have suffered silently, but had and used her influence and power to her advantage. It could be argued that Idaan does the same thing here, but the difference is one of morality, in shades. Having been reduced to a jealous, bitter villain driven to murder by a lust for power and a desire to be recognized, Idaan comes off as weaker than I would have liked. Her plight ingratiates her decisions to me, though, as does the painful deterioration of her relationship with Adrah. It’s heart-breaking to read about, especially when I consider: what other options did Idaan have? I think the irony of Otah, the son who ran away, coming back with little alternative will be reflected in Idaan’s sentiment that she, too, like her brother once said of himself, will never return.
If Idaan has a larger role to play in the last two books like I believe she does, I still have to wonder why she, along with Liat, if they are not given their due in society, is driven, or chooses, to cheat on her significant--male--other. It’s yet to be seen if this is ultimately a sexual power play--Liat and Idaan’s roles having been diminished by society to the point where their bodies are literally all they have left to control. Whether it’s this or Abraham’s female characters are just unsavory moral citizens remains to be seen. Kiyan, while independent, didn’t impress me as much as I would have liked, especially as she’s now being defined, like Idaan, by her relationship to men--she’s the Khai’s wife, mother to his child, and only one of what tradition dictates will be many wives. I’m curious to see where this goes in the remaining two books. I can only hope she escape the disappearance into irrelevance Biitrah’s wife suffered at his death.
A Betrayal in Winter is a satisfying sequel. Abraham’s writing invites a slower reading that I think benefits the scale of his story. It’s rare that I see epic fantasy this dynamic and innovative. For all that the world creates interesting avenues for Abraham’s narrative, this is really Otah’s (and perhaps also, Maati’s) story. I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. And in all honesty, the poses and gestures I found so intrusive and distracting before didn’t bother me nearly as much. Abraham didn’t appear to use them as often, but also I think I’m becoming desensitized. Whatever the reason, it was not an issue this time.
How many Jawas recommend this book?
- Calico Reaction's review
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Topics to Consider for Discussion:
(These are only rough guidelines meant to encourage discussion, not lead it)
1. Consider the role of women in this series so far. What do you like or dislike? How does the treatment of women affect (or not affect) how you read the books?
2. Many characters are the product of systems constrained by tradition. Do you think this leads to a lack of responsibility as characters default to their respective positions? Or do you think Abraham is building to a greater call for change?