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Literature / The Long Price Quartet

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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.

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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.


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Tropes featured include:

  • Applied Phlebotinum: The binding of new Andat becomes progressively more important to the plot as the series progresses.
  • Arranged Marriage: Between Ana Dasin of Galt and Danat, Otah's son and heir.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Amat Kyan in A Shadow Of Summer manages to be one of the driving forces of the story through nothing more glamourous than expert bookkeeping skills.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • Dark Fantasy: The only magic is the andat-binding, which is explicitly compared to slavery or maybe even worse than that, since andat consider mere existence to be a horrifying violation of their nature even aside from whatever else might be done to them. The powers of the andat can also be put to absolutely horrifying uses. And on the purely mundane side, Khaiate society has a sordid underbelly of violence and degradation, while its upper crust considers fratricide to be the only proper way to decide matters of inheritance.
  • Death Seeker: Every andat ultimately seeks to end its existence as a sentient being and return to being a mindless force of nature.
  • 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.
  • Defector from Decadence: Otah decides in the prologue to become one, since he finds the poets' Secret Test of Character to be morally abhorrent.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Graceful Loser: In the second book, Stone-Turns-Soft doesn't seem overly upset about Cehmai managing to overcome his attempts to break free. As he philosophically notes, there'll always be a next poet.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Tahi-kvo, a teacher at the poets' school.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Oshai gets clean away with acting as The Heavy for Seedless in A Shadow in Summer, but when he returns in a similar role in A Betrayal in Winter he's captured when trying to assassinate Maati and subsequently killed by his current masters to keep him from talking.
  • 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.
  • Low Fantasy: The andat are the only source of magic, and they are rare, with the poets having trouble ensuring so much as a single andat for each city. Their powers are also highly specific, with each andat having control over one and only one strictly defined process. As a result, most of the action in the books is resolved by completely mundane methods. Nor are there any real examples of the sort of over-the-top competence that even non-magical characters in most fantasy routinely display - sure, some people are quite smart and capable, but there aren't any One Man Armies or Aces. Lampshaded in the first book, when Maati notes that everyone thought that Otah must have gone on to a life of fabulous adventure after his principled refusal to become a poet even when offered the chance, but as it turns out Otah has found it challenging enough to just cobble together a perfectly ordinary life for himself after leaving the school with nothing but the clothes on his back.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Zig-Zagged. A major theme throughout the series is the contrast between Galtish technology (which is limited but reliable, and grows stronger over time as new discoveries) and the andat-magic of the Khaiate (which is virtually infinite in power, but is only as stable as the health and mental state of the poets and weakens over time as concepts are used up).
  • Mundane Utility: The main use of the andat. They are used as weapons of deterence against rivals, but for the most parts, their powers are put to use enhancing the local industry. For example, the andat Seedless has the terrifying ability to cause a Sterility Plague at will... but his main function is to expel the seeds from bawls of cotton, making it easier to work and thus saving endless manhours of labour.
  • 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.
  • Secret Test of Character: Deconstructed. The poets put their students to a double test. Firstly, they are placed in a school ruled by iron discipline and harsh punishments, to see if they have the courage to still defy the rules. If they do, they are told that they passed the test and that henceforth they will be in charge of enforcing the rules over other students, as cruelly as possible. However, in reality that's still only half the test, and these advanced students are then watched to see if they show compassion to the lesser students they have been told to torment, thus showing that they have both the unyielding will to control an andat and the wisdom to not go mad with the power that that will give them. The deconstruction comes from Otah being absolutely revolted when the full truth of it is revealed to him - because just because there's a secret purpose behind it all it doesn't change the fact the poets have intentionally created what's effectively a fantasy Boarding School of Horrors.
  • Semantic Superpower: 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: A complicated case. Women of the lower classes seem to enjoy the same opportunities that men do, are not required to marry, and can reach positions of distinction in merchant houses and the likes without anyone finding it strange. The availability of semi-reliable contraception also lets them fool around as much as men with at least a decent chance of not suffering any consequences from it. Among the nobility, on the other hand, only men can inherit and women are treated as the property of their families.
  • 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.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Idaan and Andrah are lovers and engaged to be married in A Betrayal in Winter, and are also scheming together for more power. Subverted in that their relationship is shown to be rapidly cooling due to the underhanded deeds they do for their common cause and come to blame each other for.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Idaan.
  • The Villain Wins: A Shadow In Summer ends with Seedless being freed and all the villains getting clean away with everything, since Otah reasoned that having "justice" prevail would come at the cost of too many innocent lives.
  • "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.

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