Imperial Antea, the greatest nation in the world, is on the rise. Thanks to the hitherto-unexpected skills of Geder Palliako, a young nobleman, a conspiracy to murder the heir to the Antean throne has been exposed and defeated. Now the Anteans are pursuing the roots of the conspiracy into neighbouring Asterilhold, an investigation which threatens to explode into full-scale war. Baron Dawson Kalliam is summoned to serve his country, but as he works with Geder he discovers the shadowy roots of Geder's new political skills and is left with a critical decision to make.
Across the continent, Cithrin Bel Sarcour's position as the face of the new Medean Bank in Porte Olivia is undermined by the arrival of a new notary determined to stop Cithring doing her job. Furious, Cithrin undertakes a journey to Carse to convince the leaders of the bank that she can do the job. This fateful decision will lead her into the heart of the growing storm that threatens to plunge the known world into chaos and war.
The King's Blood is the second novel in The Dagger and the Coin and the sequel to last year's promising opening volume in the sequence, The Dragon's Path. With this series Daniel Abraham has moved away from the Asian-tinged fantasy of his debut Long Price Quartet in favour of tackling a more traditional, Western European-based fantasy. Whilst he's moved the date to one later than normal (Renaissance Europe rather than the traditional medieval period, with a banking institution modelled on the Medici), he's still swimming in more familiar waters.
However, this move has not dented his enthusiasm or writing skills. The Dragon's Path was a very solid opening novel, but The King's Blood eclipses it on almost every level. The writing is more confident and assured. The characterisation is richer, both of the established cast (Cithrin develops into a more layered character than before; Marcus Wester's psychological state becomes clearer; Geder becomes a lot more disturbing) and of relative newcomers. Clara Kalliam had a subplot in The Dragon's Path but in this novel develops into a key protagonist as she deals with a minor scandal in her family and then has to engage with the developing political crisis. There is more action, including a skirmish with pirates and several sieges and battles, but also more introspection as the characters evolve into more fully-realised figures. Particularly fascinating are Yardem and Marcus, a fine fantasy double-act who provide a great deal of the book's humour but are also potentially storing up tragedy between them.
The worldbuilding is also improved upon from The Dragon's Path, where the differences between the various kingdoms and the thirteen distinct races of mankind were not very well-established. This is immensely improved upon in The King's Blood (and not just by the addition of a glossary), with the world becoming more convincing and the distinctions between the races better-established. An area that requires more work, however, is the political landscape in Antea, which still feels somewhat under-developed. This wasn't so much a problem in the first novel, but risks becoming an issue in The King's Blood, particularly in the concluding section of the novel which suffers a little from a lack of scope due to the very narrow focus.
The book unfolds at a fairly swift pace, which results in the pages flying by so fast that the book's end, and the resulting year-long wait for Book 3, comes upon the reader unexpectedly. The book's excellence overcomes the occasional resorting to epic fantasy contrivance (journeys are either major undertakings or are completely skipped over depending on plot needs) or its inspirations being worn a little too openly on the sleeve (the Geder plotline's parallels to the Londo Mollari storyline in Babylon 5 risk it becoming predictable until it starts to swerve away from that structure late in the novel).
The King's Blood (*****) has a few minor flaws but overall is a very fine epic fantasy novel, a huge improvement over the already-fine Dragon's Path, and notable for its focus on finely-judged characterisation as much as the more traditional furniture of the genre. It's also a fast, addictive read that elevates The Dagger and the Coin into the position of one of the finest in-progress fantasy series around at the moment. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
Source: This was a review copy sent to me by the publisher.