Literature / The Dagger and the Coin
The Dagger and the Coin
is a fantasy series written by Daniel Abraham. The first novel in the series, The Dragon's Path
, was released in 2011. Its sequel, The King's Blood
was released in the spring of 2012. The third book, The Tyrant's Law
, was released in May of 2013. The fourth book is titled The Widow's House
In ages of the distant past the world was ruled by dragons who united the lands with a network of indestructible jade roads. They also divided the human race into thirteen distinct subspecies. These ranged from the "normal" Firstbloods, to the canine Tralgu, to the insectoid Timzinae. Other sub-races had subtler traits, such as the Dartinae whose eyes glow - even through their eyelids - and Cinnae with their pale, elfin appearance.
Now the dragons are no more; victims of a civil war of mutual destruction, the jade Dragon Roads and the divided human race the last remaining traces of their influence. As the story begins the Firstblood kingdom of Antea has declared war upon its former vassal, the Free City of Vanai. Nobleman Geder Paliako is a reluctant soldier and the butt of his comrades' practical jokes. But he soon discovers that the war for Vanai has deeper, darker political motives and he is a pawn in a political game he can't hope to understand, let alone win.
Meanwhile, Marcus Wester, a military hero turned mercenary has problems of his own. He has to find a way to guard a merchant caravan fleeing Vanai without his usual soldiers, and one of the cart drivers is hiding his real identity and hauling a cargo worth more to the Anteans than anything else Vanai has to offer.
Elsewhere, in the far-flung deserts of Keshet, one monk learns a disturbing truth about the goddess he worships and others make plans for her return...
This series provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Cithrin becomes this while still a minor—a minor by medieval standards, no less—and drinking remains a constant temptation and struggle for her.
- All of the Other Reindeer: A typical day in the field with Geder involves his "friends" dumping him in the latrine pit and tricking him into burning a valuable book.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name/ Putting on the Reich: The Spider Cult that that takes over Antea has as its banner a red flag with a white circle with an "eight-fold" symbol (implied to look like an eight-barred asterisk), which would look a lot like a Nazi flag. The cult engages in a massive propaganda campaign to the effect that there is a massive conspiracy by the entire Timzinae race against Antea—a conspiracy that is entirely imaginary. The cult uses this propaganda to manipulate Antea into launching a war of world conquest, with one of Antea's objectives being the wholesale elimination of the Timzinae. Oh, and the leader of the cult wears a black cape everywhere. Word Of God is that Dawson was based on a German aristocrat who was an extreme reactionary but opposed the Nazis because he considered them low class. By extension, this means that Geder is basically Hitler.
- Arc Words: "Bound is not broken."
- "Would that be enough?"
- "The Righteous Servant."
- Affably Evil:
- Even after Jumping Off the Slippery Slope Geder never stops being a genuinely nice guy. It only makes him more disturbing in the end.
- Basrahip is an earnest, friendly, at times even jovial man. He's also a Knight Templar determined to conquer the world in the name of his goddess.
- And Now for Someone Completely Different: Dawson's wife Clara abruptly becomes a viewpoint character during the last quarter of The Dragon's Path.
- Badass Longcoat: Geder gets one.
- Batman Gambit: Qahuar Em knows Cithrin is sleeping with him in order to gain access to his office and look at his shipping proposal so he replaces it with a fake one.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Master Kit asserts that this is the case with the Spider Priests as a consequence of being able to detect and spread Certainty, and mistaking that for Truth.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Geder is a genuinely pleasant, well-meaning, if socially awkward, man. If he feels backed into a corner, though, watch out. He's capable of some really horrible things if he feels driven to it.
- Big Bad: The Spider Goddess is shaping up to be this. Except she may not actually exist- the physical goddess at the temple in the Keshet was just an elaborate statue, though something powers the spider-priests' abilities. If she's not real at all, that probably makes Basrahip the Big Bad.
- Bilingual Bonus: A few from Turkish:
- Basrahip means High Priest, which furthers the ambiguity of whether it is the actual name of the character or a title, given that the guy is the High Priest of his religion.
- The name of the otter-like humans the Kurtadam, is Turkish for werewolf.
- Bodyguard Crush:
- Cithrin has a bit of one on Marcus, which he slightly reciprocates. It's a bit squicky in that Marcus is in part the father Cithrin never had and Cithrin reminds Marcus of both his deceased wife and daughter.
- Dawson's huntsman Vincen Coe becomes a devoted protector of Clara and falls in love with her after she undoes Dawson firing him, and loyally protects Dawson motivated by his feelings for Clara. after Dawson's death, the two end up becoming lovers.
- Body Horror: The spider priests' powers are fueled by actual spiders that live inside their bodies.
- Book Ends: The Dragon's Path opens and closes with scenes from the POV of The Apostate.
- Break the Cutie: The stress of her husband's plotting has this effect on Phelia Maas.
- Casanova Wannabe: Sandr. His charm works on girls when he first meets them but people who spend any length of time around him see him for what he is and are happy to put the brakes on him.
- The Chessmaster: As befits a deadly decadent court, most of the Antean nobles are this to one degree or another. Cithrin also gets her day as one when she becomes Magistera Bel Sacrour.
- Chewing the Scenery: Master Kit's acting style. He does it so well that he can even win in Ham-to-Ham Combat against a bandit leader. Although that fact that he's a former spider priest probably helps too.
- Colonel Badass: Wester.
- Compelling Voice: A power of the Spider Priests; as the flip-side of their Living Lie Detector abilities, they can also make anyone who talks to them long enough believe that what they say is true.
- Cool Sword: The monks' dragon-forged blades.
- Cult: The priests of the Spider Goddess.
- Darkest Hour: The fall of Porte Oliva to the Antean army is this. It is at this point that Cithrin falls into a deep depression and comes to believe that Geder and the spider priests cannot be stopped. Of course, it is after this moment that the tide begins to turn.
- Dating Catwoman: Cithrin has a neutral-to-positive impression of Geder after their first meeting, wherein he allows the caravan to pass despite uncovering the hidden treasure, and also has this feeling when she learns of Geder's position as Regent, and ends up saving his life. After connecting Geder with her earlier "rescuer" and getting to know him, she grows fond of him and ends up sleeping with him (it helps that he lied to her about his role in destroying Vanai). Later on, Cithrin gets a glimpse of the real Geder and finds it difficult to square that with the likable guy she spent time with.
- Deadly Decadent Court: Antea.
- Deadpan Snarker: Yardem. Wester actually values his advice for this quality, and Wester occasionally shows signs of it himself when the two banter back and forth.
- Decoy Protagonist: Decoy Protagonist. Dawson is one of the core four PO Vs introduced in the first book, and is shaping up to be a major player. Then in the second book he goes against Geder and is rather messily executed for his trouble- so far, the only POV character to die.
- Do I Really Sound Like That?: Marcus has this reaction when he sees Master Kit act as a character clearly based on him/his situation at the start of the first novel. Kit's character exaggerates Marcus' deadpan stoicism into The Comically Serious and then expresses shock in falsetto when learning his men had been imprisoned. After seeing this, Marcus immediately turns to an amused Yardem and demands confirmation that he doesn't really sound like that.
- Doomed Hometown: Cithrin's hometown of Vanai, "thanks" to Geder crossing the Moral Event Horizon.
- Double Think: It's discussed in the second novel how Spider Priest abilities can make a person believe something is true despite it being false, so long as the person convincing them of it sincerely believes it to be true. While asserting a desire to spread truth and uncover lies (and probably actually believing it), a Spider Priest more or less tells Dawson that the truth is whatever they say it is.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Magister Immaniel and his wife are presumed killed off screen in the Vanai fire.
- Drowning My Sorrows: This is Cithrin's response to losing out on a deal to Qahuar Em: she attempts to drink herself into oblivion.
- The Empire: Antea.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Geder loves his father and is devoted to Prince Aster, to whom he plays the role of Big Brother Mentor.
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: A possible example. It is deliberately left unclear whether Basrahip is the monk leader's title or his actual name. The Tyrant's Law confuses the issue further- Master Kit, a former spider-priest himself, treats Basrahip as the high priest's name. However, the high priest himself at one point describes himself as a basrahip, lower case. Maybe it's just a Meaningful Name.
- Evil Chancellor: Basrahip, though at this point its unclear if he's really a Well-Intentioned Extremist or not.
- Evil Is Petty: Geder ends up ordering the invasion of the country Cithrin was living in because she did not reciprocate his affections.
- Evil Overlord: Deconstructed with Geder, whose storyline so far is basically that of the transformation of an ordinary person into what the rest of the world sees as an Evil Overlord, with the focus being on how he nonetheless retains his human foibles and weaknesses while really being a pawn for outside forces.
- Face-Heel Turn: Geder
- Fantastic Racism: There's a lot of it in the novel ranging from casual ethnic slurs between the various races to the chilling attempted genocide of the Tinzinae people. On a more amusing note, rather than the expected anthropocentric perspective, the Encyclopedia Exposita which describes the various races is framed as the creation of a Kurtadam scholar, who naturally considers his own race superior and is clearly unreliable.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The setting as a whole bears a pretty clear resemblance to a fantastical version of Europe, although some countries have more obvious counterparts than others:
- Antea is very clearly Germany. See Putting on the Reich supra.
- Asterilhold is, by extension, Austria.
- The Free Cities are the medieval Italian city-states; Vanai in particular is, paradoxically, a combination of Venice and Florence.
- Herez and Cabral seem to be Aragon and Castille, although which is which is difficult to tell, given how little we've seen of either.
- Birancour has elements of both France and Belgium.
- Northcoast, likewise, seems to have elements of both France and England. It may seem peculiar that the holding company of the Medean bank, which sounds like it must be based on the Medici bank, is based in Northcoast, instead of in one of the Free Cities. It becomes clear in the fourth book, however, when Cithrin invents central reserve banking, and transforms the Medean bank into the fantasy counterpart of the Bank of England. Narinisle is Britain geographically, but we have seen nothing of the culture of Narinisle.
- Hallskar seems to be Scandinavia generally.
- Far Syramis is the New World, at least geographically. We have seen nothing of its culture.
- Sarakal and Elassae are somewhat harder to pin down, as is the Keshet. The Timzinae, who are the primary population of both Sarakal and Elassae, play the part of the Jews to the Anteans' Nazis, but there are no really obvious parallels between Timzinae and Jewish culture.
- Lyoneia is north Africa geographically, but what little we see of its culture has no obvious real-world counterpart.
- The Dragon Empire, of course, was the Roman Empire.
- Five-Bad Band:
- Five-Man Band, or another Five-Bad Band depending on how you view their leader's motives:
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Geder
- Godzilla Threshold: In order to stop the Spider Cult from taking over (and effectively destroying) the world, Kit and Marcus decide to reawaken a dragon, despite knowing that dragons are superpowerful beings which enslaved all of humanity.
- Guile Heroine: Cithrin. Clara too, eventually.
- Grey and Gray Morality: In the first book, no one is obviously evil. Dawson is a hidebound reactionary aristocrat, but also a patriot loyal to his king and country. His main rival, Feldin Maas, is a traitor scheming to kill the king and crown prince (who is just a boy), but who also wants to create a farmer's council to give the common people more of a say in governing Antea. Geder Palliako is in many ways a likable, sympathetic character, who ends up ordering the burning of a city out of pride, but who also saves Antea from Maas' conspiracy. Cithrin and Marcus are basically decent people, but they are embezzlers. Master Kit seems unambiguously good, except for the fact that it turns out that he had spent decades doing nothing about the threat from the spider cult, even though he knew how dangerous they would be if they ever returned to the world. After the first book, however, the story becomes a lot less morally grey.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Though all the races are considered "human" in-universe, Cithrin is half-Firstblood (baseline human), half Cinnae. Other hybrids also appear or are mentioned.
- Heroic BSOD: Cithrin has one when Qahuar Em outsmarts her and gets the shipping contract, and then again after the fall of Porte Oliva.
- High Priest: Basrahip.
- Hope Spot: Cithrin and her companions get an extended one when they make it to Porte Oliva after fleeing Suddapal. The Antean blockade is broken by a fleet led by Barriath Kalliam and Marcus and the actors return with the last dragon to help in the defense of the city against the approaching Antean army. So for a short time, it looks like this is the moment when the tide is going to turn, and that the seemingly endless string of Antean conquest will finally be halted. Then it turns out that the Anteans were ready for the dragon and the city falls very quickly, and Cithrin has to flee again. After this, Cithrin plunges deep into despair and begins to think that the struggle is hopeless.
- Lady Macbeth: Inverted. Dawson is an ambitious, ruthless, arrogant, if hidebound nobleman, and his wife Clara is attractive, highly intelligent, deeply in love with him- and usually his conscience.
- The Lancer: Yardem.
- Large And In Charge: Basrahip.
- Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Played as straight as could be. The map looks more like Europe than a casual cartographer could draw. Word Of God indicates the culture of the setting was intended to be heavily influenced by Rennaisance-era Europe, so this is unlikely to be a coincidence.
- Living Lie Detector: One of the powers the Spider Goddess grants her servants.
- Living Relic: Inys is very upset to awaken to realize that he is the last dragon and that thousands of years have passed while he slumbered.
- Loving a Shadow: Geder is in love with an idealized version of Cithrin. When the real Cithrin decides not to play his games anymore, he goes into full Villainous Breakdown.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Early in the story, Cithrin's POV brings up the fact that her parents (one Firstblood, one Cinnae) were both from prestigious families, and had she been purely one race or the other, lots of people would have been very willing to take her in. However, because she was mixed race, no one wanted her, which is why she ended up a ward of the Bank.
- The Man Behind the Curtain: The Spider Goddess is just an inanimate statue.
- The Neidermeyer: Geder's subordinates see him as this. To be fair, they probably realized their mistake later.
- Older Than They Look: This is a racial trait of Cinnae and people who have Cinnae ancestry, who look much like Firstbloods, except more delicate and younger looking. It's shown with Cithrin and Charlit Soon how having this ancestry (or in Charlit's case possibly pretending it) allows people to pass themselves off as older than they actually are.
- Omnicidal Maniac: According to The Apostate this is the Spider Goddess's true nature.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Subverted with Roach, the young Timzinae guard. He's introduced under that nickname and the main cast call him that, assuming it is his nickname of choice. Later on, when in Timzinae territory, they find out that his name is Halvill, and that the nickname Roach is actually an anti-Timzinae ethnic slur. After that, everyone makes an effort to call him Halvill rather than Roach.
- Our Dragons Are Different
- Our Elves Are Better: The Cinnae certainly evoke this with their ethereal appearances and reputation for both intelligence and aloofness.
- Pet the Dog: When Geder finds the bank's fortune he decides to spite his masters by ignoring it and moving on. He even gives Cithrin a smile and a wink as he does so.
- The Plan: Cithrin's plan to found and keep her bank branch in defiance of her superiors.
- Red Right Hand: Although not usually outwardly visible, the Spider Priests have one in the fact that they have spiders living in their blood. While ordinarily this would seem like something fairly easy to hide, in-universe, it is traditional for oaths to be sworn by cutting one's thumb, and it is implied (and later confirmed) that the practice began as a method of detecting Spider Priests.
- Replacement Goldfish: Cithrin comes to fill the void left by the death of Wester's wife and daughter. He is savy enough to see it happening.
- Running Gag: Wester never enters a crisis without first asking Yardem if today is the day Yardem wants to kill him and usurp his command.
- Samus Is a Girl: The first three books make it clear that in-universe, the legendary slave soldier Drakkis Stormcrow is understood as being male (i.e. it's a male lead role in plays; various old books Geder reads call Drakkis "he"). However, the end of the third book has a partly flashback POV from one of the dragons Drakkis served, and reveals to the audience that Drakkis was female, and thus the understanding of her as male is in-universe Future Imperfect/ Unreliable Expositor.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The spider goddess. In an unusual subversion, her followers actually do not mind. They prefer their solitude and distance from the world and are content to wait until the day she decides to reveal the person who will spread her influence. In The Tyrant's Law, Marcus and Kit discuss this trope, and come to the conclusion that the spider-priests were driven to their isolated temple by some outside agressor and became content with the situation as a side effect of using their Compelling Voice on each other.
- Start of Darkness: Geder's story arc in The Dragon's Path.
- Stalker with a Crush: Geder to Cithrin. He sends the Antean army to invade the country of Birancour just to bring her back as a prisoner to him; his fantasy is that once his army has stormed the city she's living in and brought her to him as a prisoner, he will explain everything to her and she will love him.
- Take a Third Option: When forced to choose between trying and most likely failing to deliver the bank's money or simply trying to pocket the money and run Cithrin uses it to found her own bank branch instead.
- Upon realizing he has been set up for a fall Geder neither admits defeat, nor does he keep struggling only to fail anyway. Instead he crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
- Token Heroic Orc: Master Kit is a rogue Spider Priest who escaped the cult and seeks to stop their evil plans for the world.
- Trigger Phrase: While Spider Priests are very persuasive in general, when they really want to brainwash someone, they will preface a command with, "Listen to my voice", and will repeat it as necessary.
- Two Aliases, One Character: Until the epilogue of the first book, it is not clear that the Apostate Spider Priest and Master Kit are one in the same, although it is heavily implied throughout.
- Unreliable Expositor: The in-universe sources provided to the audience tend to be of this stripe.
- The description of the various races is written from the perspective of a Kurtadam scholar who considered his own race superior and is deeply biased in how he characterized other races.
- Geder's reading is a source of much information for the audience, but is also of questionable reliability. Geder favors the genre of "speculative essays", and while on one level, that fictional genre is a joking reference to science fiction, there's also an implication that some of these authors are akin to conspiracy theorists/cranks.
- The Spider Cult is skeptical of the value of the written word for a number of reasons, some valid, and as such dismiss written histories and insist their own teachings are accurate. Although the written histories have their own issues (see above), it's quite clear that everything taught by the cult is highly suspect.
- Villainous Breakdown: Basrahip is able to talk Feldin Maas into one.
- Villain Protagonist: Geder starts out a Classical Anti-Hero but gradually morphs into one of these across The Dragon's Path. He becomes one full time in subsequent books.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Opal fears her life is becoming this. It affects her judgment.