Review: The Spider's War (The Dagger and the Coin Book 5 of 5)

The Spider's War (The Dagger and the Coin) - Daniel Abraham

I really enjoyed this epic fantasy series.  It had a detailed world with multiple cultures, wars, politics, heroes, and villains.  There’s a little bit of magic, but it’s pretty subtle and didn’t always feel like magic.  Unlike some epic fantasy, this series didn’t have a huge cast of characters.  Each book had four to five main point-of-view characters with several supporting characters, and it was always easy to keep everybody straight.  I liked some of the main characters and disliked others, but all of them were interesting to read about.  I thought a couple of the supporting characters were at least as memorable and enjoyable as some of the main characters.

The books don’t tell individually complete stories.  Reading this series was sort of like reading one long, 2500-page story.  The entire first book was a slow build-up to the beginning of the main plot.  It definitely wasn’t boring, but it was heavily character-oriented and it kind of meandered around to build the foundation needed to appreciate the rest of the story.  There was nothing even approaching a “resolution” at the end of the first book because we’d barely scratched the surface of learning about the thing that had to be resolved.  The prologue of the first book did do a great job of setting the stage for the main plot, though, so I felt from the beginning like I knew what the story was about and had a general idea of where things were headed.

Each of the subsequent books revealed more and more layers, and usually ended with the sense that progress was being made.  This final book was really hard to put down because by this point we were clearly working toward the resolution of the main plot.  I was on the edge of my seat (sometimes literally!), eager to see how everything would work out.  I was mostly satisfied with the ending.  While not everything turned out well for everybody, the ending left me with a positive feeling as opposed to the sad or bittersweet feeling that so many other books seem to end with.  There were some loose threads left at the end, including one major one, but I had such mixed feelings about how I wanted that thread to be resolved that I almost didn’t mind the fact that it wasn’t resolved.  There were some things that I wish had been explained more fully, though.
I don’t think this series would convert anybody who isn’t already a fan of epic fantasy, but I do think it’s a satisfying series for people who are already fans of the subgenre.  To anybody who liked this series, I would also recommend this author’s earlier epic fantasy series, the Long Price Quartet.  I thought his earlier series was more unique, whereas this one is a bit more traditional, but I think they were both equally enjoyable.

I have a lot of random thoughts that are full of spoilers for the entire series.  As per my usual style, I’m going to list them within spoiler tags:

* I never did figure out why this last book is called The Spider’s War.  There’s a heck of a lot more than one spider involved here, so why isn’t it The Spiders’ War?  If I hadn't known better, I would have thought the title was a major spoiler and we were going to find out that there was actually a spider goddess after all.  Really, The Dragons’ War seems like a more fitting title since this entire book is basically about ending the war started by the dragons so many years ago.

* Geder was really an awesomely-written villain.  He was horrible, and did horrible things long before the priests got involved, and yet he saw himself as a victim of circumstances who was just trying to do the right thing.  He reacted to things badly, based on the emotion of the moment, and then laid all the blame for his horrible choices on the things that had provoked his emotional reaction.  I mean, we all know people like this, right?  They just don’t usually wreak quite as much havoc because they don’t have the same amount of power that Geder was given.

* I had suspected Geder would die by the end, although I didn’t know if it would happen as a result of his own choices.  I wasn’t surprised, though, that Geder chose to sacrifice himself in the end.  It fit with his character, because he always saw himself as a hero sacrificing the quiet life he wanted in order to be the ruler that everybody needed him to be.  I liked the fact that the main characters still saw him for who he was, and didn't act like his sacrifice redeemed his earlier actions.

* I never entirely made up my mind how I felt about the dragon Inys or what I wanted to happen to him.  He never could see humans as anything but slaves, so none of his plans for the future seemed benevolent toward humans.  He and his fellow dragons did create humanity, so maybe he had some right to determine how humanity would live when looked at from that perspective.  But he was also cruel and moody and quick to react in anger.  When they tried to kill him while he was destroying the priests, I felt horrible for him because I was imagining how betrayed he would feel when he was trying to undo the damage he had helped cause.  And then, just when I was feeling all soft-hearted toward him, thinking maybe he would eventually grow to be a benevolent guardian of humanity, he killed the boy who had healed him and who was willing to completely devote his life to him.  The sympathy was gone after that!

* It really seems like we need an entire extra book to tie up the dragon-related plot threads.  I kind of liked the idea of leaving off the story with Marcus and Yardem off to hunt a dragon, knowing they have more adventures ahead of them.  I would also like to read that story, though, and a lot of questions about the dragons were left open.  We were never really told what happened to the rest of the dragons.  There were hints here and there, and small pieces of the story could be extrapolated, but there were also major gaps left in the story.  There also seemed to be hints about the Drowned and other artifacts that never really went anywhere.

* I also never really felt satisfied that we were told everything we should have been told about Marcus’ poison sword.  Why did they never ask Inys if there was a cure for the poison, since it was created by dragons?  Inys claimed he took care of his “tools”, and he seemed to have genuine affection for his tamed slaves before he went into hibernation.  So it seems possible that he might not have given his tools a debilitating sword without having some counter-measure available.  It wouldn’t necessarily have surprised me if Inys had never given it a moment’s thought and had no way to help Marcus, but it seems like one of the characters at least would have asked.

* This is such a seriously tiny thing, but I swear for like four books I was wondering if Geder was ever going to read or return the book he’d borrowed from Aster’s tutor.  Somehow I kept thinking that this borrowed book was going to show up later on in the series, but I guess the importance was only in my own head!  I thought maybe Geder would run across it on the shelf and read something important in it that would lead to his understanding of what the priests were.

* The series really did have interesting themes and real-world parallels about how people handle truths and false truths.  We saw the dangers of believing and acting on something as if it were absolute truth when you could in fact be wrong, as well as the catastrophes that can occur when people are essentially brainwashed to believe something that isn’t true.  It was also interesting to see how the priests would slowly start to diverge in their beliefs and each form their own incompatible versions of the truth, often with only minor differences, that would eventually lead to major conflicts.
* I want a sequel about Marcus and Yardem’s hunt for Inys with Yardem as a point-of-view character, and all my open dragon questions answered. :)  If there’s one thing this series needed more of, it was more Yardem!  He was a great character, and we were given such interesting tidbits about his past that left me wanting more details.  But I do sometimes have a weird tendency to get attached to secondary characters.

(show spoiler)