Orbit, 2016, 519 pages
The epic conclusion to The Dagger and the Coin series, perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin.
Lord Regent Geder Palliako's great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent war of all against all.
In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world.
The Dagger and the Coin series started out with some basic throne games in a GRRM-like setting. Daniel Abraham has clearly been influenced by Martin, but while there is some death and horror in his books, he doesn't quite go fully grimdark. There are some dark moments, however, mostly centered around Geder Palliako, who I would say is the anti-protagonist of this series. Elevated, more or less by accident, to Lord Regent and protector of the throne of Antea in the first book, he's spent the last four books driving Antea into a ditch.
Swayed by the priests of the spider goddess, who emerged from an ancient monastery preaching the good news of the spider goddess who will bring peace and harmony to all the world (now really, I hate to be speciesist, but how likely is it that a spider goddess is really going to be good news?), aided by the power to detect lies and make people believe whatever they say is true, Geder has sent Antea's armies out to conquer and ravage their neighbors, and also to pursue his personal vendettas, all while convincing himself that he doesn't want war, he doesn't want bad things to happen, it's just that everyone keeps making him do these things. Arguably he passed the moral event horizon in the very first book, in the action which eventually led to his ascent to Lord Regent, when he ordered a city burned because he didn't know how to control it. (And, as Cithrin bel Sarcour, one of Vanai's survivors, points out in this book, that happened before Geder fell under the influence of the spider priests.) Certainly, however, he passes it when he orders five hundred children of revolting slaves thrown off the city's walls. All the while still convincing himself that "They made me do it!"
This has been Geder's story throughout the series. He could have been a decent person. He wanted to be a decent person. He's just always been a weak person and it doesn't take much to push him in any direction, least of all priests who can make you believe whatever they say. He wants to be liked and respected and he'll do anything - including conquest, enslavement, and butchery - to make people like him.
Cithrin bel Sarcour, the actual protagonist of the series (along with Marcus Wester and Clara Kalliam, though neither of them are quite as interesting as Cithrin) figures this out about Geder, and thus conceives of a plan to manipulate him into helping them get rid of the spider priests once and for all. With some help from the last dragon, who is also a problem because he clearly plans to go about re-enslaving humanity like his ancestors did as soon as they've dealt with the spider priest problem.
Thus, this book, the final one in the series, is clearly setting up all kinds of betrayals and deaths. The only question is who will survive. Geder, being responsible for untold atrocities, clearly can't be allowed (either by the other characters or by narrative justice) to get away clean, right? And yet damned if you can't almost feel sorry for the whiny little bastard right up to the end.
This series did not ever quite hit 5 stars for me. Maybe I'd give the series as a whole 5 stars, but each individual book was thoroughly entertaining without ever being knocked-it-out-of-the-park. The ending brings things to a mostly tidy and logical resolution, though Daniel Abraham, being a modern fantasy author, has left enough threads dangling to invite some RPG publisher to come along and license his work. The Dagger and the Coin would also make a decent TV series, for those who can't get enough of Game of Thrones, but as S.A. Corey, Abraham has already had his Expanse series produced on the SyFy Channel. If you like either of those, you should check out this series.
Also by Daniel Abraham: My reviews of The Dragon's Path, The King's Blood, The Tyrant's Law, and The Widow's House.
My complete list of book reviews.