A lot of the stories we encounter in fantasy books center on young heroes going on world-changing adventures with their friends, all while discovering what really matters to them and what they believe in. It’s easy to see why the young hero/heroine is a staple of fantasy or any genre for that matter. Their save-the-world adventures are externalized versions of what we go through as we come of age – just with more dramatic set-dressing.
Daniel Abraham’s Long Price book series is also about growing up and seeing the world, but Abraham takes a more sober look at aging. His books, which are named after seasons, walk us through the lives of his three young protagonists from their teen years to the end of their lives while also showing us how the world that the characters live in changes.
Okay, that still sounds generic. What’s really unique about this series is that most of its heroes are ordinary old people. In one of them, a middle-aged accountant starts a textile business that lets her fund a spy network to protect the city-state she grew up in. So much of this series is just regular people doing the most good not by being stars but by simply doing their job.
What Is the Long Price Quartet All About?
The Long Price quartet is a four-book series that follows the lives of two young men and one woman. Common, right? You’ve seen it in Harry Potter and in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Sometimes they stay friends, sometimes one of them falls in love with the girl. In Long Price, both of the guys fall in love with the girl – to disastrous results.
The story starts in Saraykeht, a city-state that’s part of a network of city-states that are collectively known as the Khaiem. The Khaiem’s socio-political structure is defined by the andat (concepts that are bound into fae-like forms) and a succession tradition that demands surplus sons to be discarded and sent to a school for poets (the mages that bind the andat). These poets go on to serve the Khaiem and their kings, the Khais.
The Long Price takes this initial premise and shows us how these two facts touch the lives of all its characters. Our “lead” hero, Otah Machi, is one of the many sons of the Khaiem. Maati, another young boy Otah first meets in the poets’ school, becomes an apprentice poet. Liat Chokavi, the woman at the center of it all, is a go-getter apprentice accountant who dreams of one day being in charge of the business of a noble house – a business that relies on the stability of Saraykeht’s economy.
Saraykeht, in turn, relies on its head poet Heshai and Seedless, the andat that Heshai controls. Seedless is the very concept of “Removing the part [of a thing] that continues [itself]” bound to a physical form, allowing Maati to use him to de-seed cotton. Seedless drives the economy of Saraykeht and his influence binds together the stories of every character we meet, the cities they move through, and their own interpersonal drama.
These concepts made flesh are the only form of magic in the world of Long Price and what they are reveals something of how people think of things and, as we’re later shown, how they think of themselves.
To say more about Long Price would be to give the story away. You’ll find conflicting summaries about this series because, frankly, it’s like trying to give a singular description of A Song of Ice and Fire or House of Leaves without leaving anything out.
If you’re still not convinced as to whether Long Price is your cup of tea, here’s a quick list of what makes the series so good.
What Makes the Long Price Quartet Good?
The Lead Characters Are Older
While a lot of the drama in the story revolves around the younger Otah, Liat, and Maati, the real leads of the story are Amat Kiyaan (the aforementioned accountant), Marchat Wilsin (Amat’s employer), and Heshai (a disillusioned poet of Saraykeht). It’s these three that make the real big decisions of the first novel, so while the younger leads make up half of the story, it’s clear how small their contributions to world-changing events are relative to the older characters. The story also doesn’t reward the three young leads for making impulsive decisions based on what they think is right.
Instead, it’s the quiet and humble work of Amat Kiyaan that has the most lasting effect on the world of Long Price, nudging along other events of the story.
When we see the three young leads again after the first book, they’re already disabused of their romantic notions of heroism. They’re not grimdark, edgy heroes, but they’re more worn down like a 20-something that’s had a reality check. And they only get older from there. Throughout the books, they struggle against their own disillusionment and try to keep doing the right thing – even though they learn that competing interests are competing interests and that they can’t always do the right thing.
It’s Not Another Vaguely European Fantasy Setting
There’s a distinctly Eastern feel to Long Price with its emphasis on titles that are added at the end of names (much like honorifics san and sama in Japanese), but it never becomes Live, Laugh, Love orientalism for weeaboos. While reading Long Price, it’s hard not to imagine the story taking place in a fantasy version of Ottoman Turkey, especially since there are parallels between the succession traditions of the Khaiem and the Ottoman practice of fratricide between competing princes. The story executes the culture of the Khaiem with grace, leaving readers with the sticky feeling of Saraykeht’s humid seaside summers.
A Low Magic Setting Where the Real Magic Is Economics
Daniel Abraham could have given the high fantasy route with his andat, but the Long Price keeps the magic of the andat rare. The way the magic works, to put it simply, is that definition of a concept binds that idea into an andat that can then be commanded. The poets’ long years of study, monastic lives, and meticulous use of language to keep the finicky andat in check make them more like fantasy lawyers than traditional mages.
The real magic of the story is economics. Long Price manages to make the financial workings of the Khaiem not only not boring, but more interesting and fantastical than the actual magic that exists in its world. The laws of money bind what its states and characters can do just as much as language binds the andat.
Character Choices Matter
A lot of books use characters’ choices as the central drama of their story, but it’s in Long Price where you will feel like their choices actually matter. It’s because the choices in Long Price reverberate through time – whether they are big or small.
Even the smallest choices and decisions made by characters, who are all hoping to do the right thing, create situations down the line that affect their children and their children’s children. By the time you get to the end of the book, the first three characters we meet aren’t entirely sure if being heroes is the right thing to do if it creates more choices that lead to more sticky situations.
What makes it even better is that you can trace the situations in the latter books back to choices made in the first book in very specific and obvious ways. Their little decisions snowball, which makes you dread what new decisions will result in.
Getting a Copy of the Long Price Quartet
If you think the Long Price Quartet is the kind of fantasy book series that would appeal to you, you can get the entire series as a pair of books titled Shadow and Betrayal and Price of War.
Shadow and Betrayal is the combined version of books one and two which are A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter. We start in Saraykeht with A Shadow and Summer and see the younger trio of heroes become young adults in A Betrayal in Winter.
Price of War is comprised of books three and four which are An Autumn War and The Price of Spring. An Autumn War is where all the bad choices of our characters blow up in their face…and their children’s faces. The Price of Spring has them content with a changing world that is evolving past them. At this point, the characters are middle-aged and coming into their twilight years, making their struggle as much against time as it is against events.