Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Review: 'The Widow's House' by Daniel Abraham

Lord Regent Geder Palliako's war has led his nation and the priests of the spider goddess to victory after victory. No power has withstood him, except for the heart of the one woman he desires. As the violence builds and the cracks in his rule begin to show, he will risk everything to gain her love or else her destruction.

Clara Kalliam, the loyal traitor, is torn between the woman she once was and the woman she has become. With her sons on all sides of the conflict, her house cannot stand, but there is a power in choosing when and how to fall.

And in Porte Oliva, banker Cithrin bel Sarcour and Captain Marcus Wester learn the terrible truth that links this war to the fall of the dragons millennia before, and that to save the world, Cithrin must conquer it.

The Widow’s House is the fourth – and penultimate – book in Daniel Abraham’s awesome fantasy series The Dagger and the Coin, and continues to follow the stories of four central characters during their nation’s descent into war.

As with the previous three books in the series, The Widow’s House is very character-focused and is structured using the named chapters and switching POVs popularised by George RR Martin. As with all books that use this technique this is sometimes quite frustrating, particularly when a chapter ends on a cliffhanger, or when you’ve forgotten what a certain character was doing when last we saw them. However, it’s nice that the focus has consistently been on the same four POV characters throughout the series, and picking up The Widow’s House gave me the sense of being reunited with old friends. The switching POVs also become much less disorienting as the novel progresses and each of the different storylines all begin to fall together.

Much as I like all four of the main characters, I have to say that once again Geder Palliako edges in front as my favourite. The Lord Regent is child-like and peevish, petulant and bitter, and yet strangely sympathetic. He’s the nicest of people while at the same time being the villain of the piece, a tyrant who simply does not realise he’s a tyrant. He fails to observe that everyone is terrified of him and his inexplicable rages, and is instead desperate for everyone to be his friend. He doesn’t realise certain things are inappropriate, such as staying over for a week to personally oversee his Lord Marshal’s wife giving birth, or committing entire armies to devastating battles simply to take revenge on a woman who hurt his feelings. He also doesn’t realise that he is a puppet, manipulated by his most trusted friend – the spider priest Basrahip – into turning his kingdom into a platform for the chaotic cult of the spider goddess.

The other characters are very different, but also likeable and interesting to read about, and all three are working together – whether knowingly or not – towards the same end. The darling of the piece has to be Clara – the ‘widow’ in The Widow’s House – who is secretly scheming to overthrow the Regent in order to protect the kingdom, a job made much more complicated by the fact that her husband was executed by Palliako for treason, and she is unwilling to jeopardise her sons, both of whom hold high positions within the Regent’s army.  Clara is brave, practical and loyal, and her chapters always make for a pleasantly easy read (despite the fact that not a lot really happens in them). In contrast, Marcus is a cynical mercenary who has travelled to the ends of the earth searching for ancient weapons to stop the spider priests from spreading their evil; while Cithrin, a banker, is attempting to undermine the Regent and his priests using more unconventional means. Cithrin’s chapters are often the most interesting: she is the ‘coin’ in The Dagger and the Coin, and is forced to find ways to defeat her enemies using the resources at her disposal, namely money. This thread of the story, focusing on economics rather than war or politics, is original and interesting, although a little under-used.

All of the characters have developed throughout the series in their own fascinating way, and the plot has progressed to the point where I can’t wait to see how it ends. Bring on book five!


Click here to view The Widow's House (Dagger & Coin #4) on Amazon UK

Click here to read my review of The Dragon's Path (Dagger & Coin #1)
Click here to read my review of The King's Blood (Dagger & Coin #2)
Click here to read my review of The Tyrant's Law (Dagger & Coin #3)


  1. Here here! Bring on book five. I am so ready, this series is such a kick. Though I got it confused with The Expanse and have been thinking this series was seven books, not five.

    1. I think The Expanse will be the next thing I'll try by this author - I don't generally read a lot of SF but I find Abraham's writing style very pleasant to read. Dagger & Coin isn't the best series I've ever read, but it's fun, quick and easy to read, which counts for a lot. I'll definitely miss Geder & Co once it's all over.

  2. Perhaps it's my gender, but I find Abraham's archaic treatment of his female characters entirely frustrating. It's as if his imagination is trapped in some kind of pseudo asian Victorian era in every fantasy he writes. Other norms and mores HAVE existed from which he could pull SOME influence given this is High Fantasy. How icky it must have been for him to work with someone as unabashedly unrepressed as George R. R. Martin! Ohhh the endless showering and OCD hand-washing that must have gone on! I really care about his characters, Marcus, Kit, Coe and poor Sabiha and her son (which was the last "punish the woman for her sexuality" straw for me) but I simply cannot stand the endless preaching (is he another prolific MORMON?) one page longer. Even the symbolism is so clunky and heavy-handed it gives me a headache! I'm sure endlessly pubescent men just love all the fighting and well-leashed (thereby non-threatening) females though...

    Coe's struggles with his manhood are simply the author's own conflicted feelings about being/having been a "kept man" put to fiction.

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