Literature / The Long Price Quartet
This four-book series by author Daniel Abraham (an alum of the same New Mexico writer's workshop as Gardener Dozois, Melinda M. Snodgrass and George R. R. Martin) focuses on the lives and relationship of two men, Otah Machi, an Exiled Prince
and Maati Vaupathi, with an array of secondary characters who come and go as the series progresses. Long Price takes place primarily in a collapsed The Empire
known as the Khaiate where poets bind ideas to human form and wield unimaginable power through their slaves, the Andat. The series follows Otah and Maati from their childhoods to their old age, chronicling their friendship, antagonism and the decline of the fortunes of the Khaiate as they come into conflict with their trading partners, the Galts.
The Quartet deals heavily with issues of racism, progress, sustainability, aging and love. The unusually large timeframe (the series spans nearly sixty years from the first chapter of A Shadow In Summer
to the epilogue of The Price Of Spring
) allows a very real look at how flawed people deal with family, responsibility and guilt. The issue of abuse of power is also prominent due to the world-spanning power of the Andat and, by association, the poets who wield them.
Tropes featured include:
- Applied Phlebotinum: The binding of new Andat becomes progressively more important to the plot as the series progresses.
- Batman Gambit: The Andat Seedless arranges for Heshai to perform an abortion on a young girl (who doesn't know what's happening thanks to a helpful language barrier) in hope of driving Heshai to suicide, thus releasing Seedless from his binding.
- Beautiful All Along: Subverted with Idaan, who is described as unremarkable but skilled with cosmetics.
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: The households of the Khaiem, the highest Khaiate nobility, engage in fratricide as a matter of course to decide succession.
- Bookworm: Maati, Cehmai and all the poets to one degree or another.
- Break the Cutie: Liat Chokavi in A Shadow In Summer. And how.
- Break the Haughty: Idaan in A Betrayal In Winter.
- Character Development: Pretty much the whole damn point of the series, and marvelously well done.
- Children Are Innocent: Played straight with Danat and subverted with Eiah.
- Cincinnatus: Otah tries. He tries so hard. Poor guy.
- Cool Old Lady: Amat Kyan in A Shadow Of Summer.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Failure to bind an Andat properly results in "the paying of the price," which can be anything from having one's organs filled slowly with crushed glass to growing hundreds of mouths that vomit up all of your blood. Right.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Vanjit's need for vengeance against the Galts in The Price Of Spring is motivated by her family's death during Balasar Gice's invasion of the Khaiate.
- Deal with the Devil: Poets call Andat into being by describing them with a complex, risky grammatical structure. Then they have to keep a constant mental leash on them. Forever. Oh, and the Andat live only to escape their bindings.
- Deus Exit Machina: After using Wounded to heal the damage done by Corrupting-The-Generative and Clarity-Of-Vision, Eiah releases it.
- Dying Race: Since an andat that has been bound and then released can never again be bound in the same way, every lost binding permanently weakens the power of the poets. One of the background plots of the first two books is that the poets have nearly totally run out of useful andat-concepts to attempt. Notably, a casual mention in the background of Winter confirms that after Heshai's death freed Seedless, it took years before any poet could successfully bind another halfway useful andat.
- Dynamic Character: Otah, surprisingly. He even manages to avoid becoming a Standardized Leader while working his way from dockfront laborer to messenger, Khai Machi and finally Emperor.
- Elves vs. Dwarves: The rivalry between the Khaiate and the Galts has strong shades of this.
- The Emperor: Otah, from the end of An Autumn War onward.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Horrendously subverted with Idaan Machi who murders her brothers and father in an attempt to put a lover she doesn't really care about on the throne.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: All Andat names.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Khaiate is strongly reminiscent of feudal Japan.
- Fantastic Honorifics: Faux-Japanese style.
- Functional Magic: Theurgy - the Poets create the Andats who actually peform the magic.
- A God Am I: Vanjit after she binds Clarity-of-Vision.
- Good Is Not Nice: Otah is forced to kill the poet Heshai in A Shadow In Summer. Granted, Heshai sort of wanted to die so that his Andat wouldn't be turned into a weapon of genocide, but still. Also Maati Who spends most of The Price Of Spring ignoring the fact that his pupil blinded ALL OF GALT on a whim. Plus, Idaan is callous and homicidal even AFTER her Heel–Face Turn.
- Grumpy Old Man: Maati by the end of the series. Also, Tahi-kvo combines this with The Old Master.
- Holding Back the Phlebotinum: The Andat, despite being able to literally level continents are rarely, if ever, employed in war. Conflicts between poets are implied to have rendered huge swaths of the Khaiate states uninhabitable. Two Andat, Corrupting-the-Generative and Clarity-of-Vision, are wielded in the series. Corrupting-the-Generative is unleashed without a true binding and sterilizes all Galtic men and all Khaiate women. Clarity-of-Vision is used by the insane Vanjit to blind EVERYTHING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.
- It Amused Me: One andat (Corrupting-The-Generative, aka Sterility) was accidentally summoned without a proper binding and proceeded to wreak havoc. This seems to be the only reason for its actions. The personality of an andat can vary wildly depending on the specific wording of the binding; this andat likely behaved the way it did because Maati based the binding of the andat on that of the spiteful and vindictive andat Removing-The-Part-That-Continues, aka Seedless.
- Though it's also implied that, since its summoning contained a special grammatical construct to prevent it from leveling a price against its summoner, it was instead quasi-compelled to exert that price on everyone else.
- Jerk Ass: Tahi-kvo, a teacher at the poets' school.
- Libation for the Dead: Otah writers letters to his wife, Kiyan, after she passes away between An Autumn War and The Price Of Spring.
- Loophole Abuse: How Balasar Gice destroys the andat. He is the first person to see (or at least want to use) the potential of Freedom-From-Bondage, the classic example of an andat that's impossible to bind. What Balasar realizes is that there's a difference between binding and holding an andat. It is in fact remarkably easy to bind Freedom-From-Bondage. The basic form of the binding has long been worked out, but since it's never been used there's no risk of duplicating someone else's work. Of course, you can't hold the binding, no matter how strong your mind. As soon as Freedom-From-Bondage is created, it will exert its nature and unbind itself. But if you phrase the initial bonding correctly, then when Freedom-From-Bondage unbinds itself, it will unbind every other andat in the world at the same moment.
- The Magic Goes Away: Since an andat that has been bound and then freed can never again be bound the same way, every lost binding weakens the power of the poets that much further. It's a plot point throughout the first two books that the poets have nearly exhausted the list of useable andats, and are forced to seize on every-narrower scraps of concept in the quest to find something that hasn't been defined.
- Marriage Of Alliance: Between Ana Dasin of Galt and Danat, Otah's son and heir.
- Medieval Stasis: Averted with Galt, a nation which employs "steam wagons" and invents the train. Played straight with the Khaiate which is socially, economically and technologically stagnant due to their reliance on the andat.
- Moral Dissonance: Amat Kyan and Liat Chokavi both seem to think that the slaughter of all the unborn children of Galt via Andat is a just response to the abortion of ONE child, who isn't even Khaiate.
- Strictly speaking, The abortion was only the proximate effect of an attempt to make the poet lose control of Seedless by causing Heshai emotional distress. Given the importance of the Andadt to the Khaiate, there's some logic to the idea of retaliation to prevent the Galts from making more attempts against the Andadts.
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: Otah to Sinja, the captain of his guard and his last real friend by the time of The Price Of Spring.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Otah accidentally revealed the double deception of the poet's school to Maati, allowing him to pass both the tests (courage and compassion), when he should have passed neither. According to Corrupting-The-Generative, it was this that allowed Corrupting's own fatally flawed creation.
- Old Master: Maati in The Price Of Spring. Subverted, though, in that he's constantly wracked by fear and indecision.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Right down to the spiders and the flies.
- Personality Powers: Eiah, the physician, binds the Andat called Wounded who can heal or cause injury.
- Rebellious Princess: Idaan in the second book is a rare villainous (if sympathetic) example. Later becomes a Fallen Princess.
- Redemption Quest: Idaan's offer to Otah to hunt down the renegade poets as thanks for his having spared her life after taking their father's seat as Khai Machi.
- Refusal of the Call: Otah. Shockingly, he succeeds at not becoming a poet. Not so much at being shoehorned into ruling the continent, though.
- Reset Button: Downplayed at the end of The Price Of Spring. Eiah uses Wounded to reverse the damage caused by Corrupting-The-Generative and Clarity-Of-Vision, but all the Galts who died while blinded are still dead, and all the social and political damage done by a decade of sterility is still there.
- Semantic Superpowers: An andat is essentially the physical embodiment of a concept, and the poet who holds the andat bound has absolute control over that concept. So the holder of the andat Stone-Made-Soft can harden or soften any stone that exists anywhere in the world, while the holder of Clarity-Of-Vision can sharpen the vision of any living thing to impossible degrees... or blind any living thing with a thought.
- Sidekick: Maati plays this to Otah for most of the series. Later Cehmai to Maati, but to a lesser degree.
- Succession Crisis: Pretty much the entire plot of the second novel.
- Terminally Dependent Society: Not only do the Khaiate city's industries depend heavily on the andat, they depend totally on them for defense. When Balasar Gice figures out how to release the andat, he is able to conquer the entire Khaiate in a matter of months.
- Took a Level in Badass: Eiah in The Price Of Spring.
- Villainous Breakdown: Idaan.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
- You Cannot Kill An Idea: Discussed in the final chapter. Otah points out that the hardest thing about binding the andat was learning that they could be bound. Once the thing is known to be possible, people will try and achieve it. Without the Khaiate grammers to help focus the mind, or the records of past bindings to know which ideas have already been used up, the cost in failed bindings will be huge. But sooner or later, someone will succeed.