I think the story told in The King's Blood was quite good, and I'll get to it in a moment, but the shoddy editing really detracted from my enjoyment of this book. I took an index card and marked a passage that bothered me, and by the end of the book, I'd ripped the index card into little pieces to mark all of the editing/grammar/usage issues I had. Some examples:
- Not grammar or usage, exactly, but infodumping: when Dawson first visits the Kingspire, a place he's been presumably dozens of times, he feels the need to describe it down to the last detail. I would guess that unless there are some particularly unusual architectural details, the interiors of most buildings don't need to be described; the readers won't remember them (and in my case, I don't care, as they usually have nothing to do with the story). An exception might be made for a character entering a building for the first time.
- Same chapter, subject-verb disagreement: "Somewhere deep down...WAS the first Kingspire and the bones of the first kings." Should be WERE because it's a compound subject (Kingspire AND bones).
- Also, Abraham uses the word "rose" at least three times on the first page of this chapter and the next.
- The chapter where Cithrin is looking at the statue of the last Dragon Emperor: "Komme Medean's son was a year older than HER..." I've been over this time and time again in this blog, but it's "a year older than SHE..."
- There's a weird tendency in a couple of scenes for a character to ask another character a question, or sometimes make a statement, and the second character to answer with a single verb. For example: Marcus says "Is it theological?" and Yardem answers "Is." I don't know anyone who talks like this in real life. If it was just one character, maybe I'd buy that it was a peculiarity of his or hers. But many characters do it, and not consistently.
- One of Cithrin's chapters: "The little courtyard was laid out in squares now. A bit over two dozen of them." First sentence is fine. Second sentence is just ungrammatical. You could say "A few more than two dozen of them." "Bit over" only works for mass or uncountable nouns; "squares," which is the noun here, is definitely countable (as evidenced by the "two dozen" part).
- Discussing whether to open a bank branch in Antea, talking about Geder: "He's weakened his own support among the noble classes. He wasn't precisely one of them to begin with." "Them" in the second sentence is ambiguous. Geder wasn't a highly-ranking noble to begin with, true, but them would properly refer to the "noble classes." And sure, Geder was fat at one point, but I don't think he was a noble class unto himself.
I would, however, still recommend the book. The story didn't turn out at all how I expected it to, and there were some nice tie-ins from the previous volume. It's not a feel-good book, by any means, although some of the sympathetic characters enjoy minor triumphs (Cithrin being one of them).
We follow basically all the same viewpoint characters as in The Dragon's Path. Cithrin is not happy in Porte Oliva because the bank has sent an auditor to run things until she (Cithrin) reaches the age of majority. She jumps at the chance to take the Porte Oliva branch's records to Carse; she thinks she'll be able to make her case to Komme Medean for running her own branch. She goes with a bank delegation to Camnipol, the capital city of Antea, where she encounters Geder after there's been attempt on his life. She helps him (and his ward, more on that later) escape harm. They hide underground, and Cithrin finds herself oddly attracted to Geder. She ends up having sex with him. This part, I don't like so much. I never would've pegged them as a couple. At least it doesn't end up working out, though I'm not sure Geder realizes that. What he does to Dawson (see below) turns her off.
Marcus has stayed on as bank security out of some protective feeling for Cithrin; perhaps she reminds him of his daughter (in the previous book, I got the feeling he was at least a little attracted to her, but I didn't get that vibe this time). When she leaves, and doesn't take him along, he does a couple of stupid things. Master Kit (the leader of the troupe of players from the previous volume) bails Marcus out and takes him on a journey to find a weapon that can destroy the spider goddess (whose acolyte he once was). Marcus hasn't changed much at all; his desire to protect and/or rescue Cithrin borders on obsessive now, and he's willing to take stupid risks, but the events he's famous for (happened before the first book, but we're reminded of them here) suggest that he has always been a bit impulsive when under stress.
Dawson is suspicious of Geder's reliance on Basrahip, the priest of the spider goddess, but when Geder asks Dawson to lead an army into a neighboring kingdom to answer for a threat to the dead King Simeon's young son Prince Aster, Dawson is honored. When Geder tells Dawson to kill all the nobles of said kingdom, Dawson lies and says an agreement had already been reached to spare the nobility. Dawson then decides to lead a revolt against Geder but ends up getting caught. Geder, in a fit of rage, eventually kills Dawson. Dawson is MUCH more sympathetic in this volume than in the last one. I really didn't like to read his chapters in the last book, but I'm actually rooting for him here.
Dawson's wife Clara is left to pick up the pieces after her husband's death. She finds herself down and out, and the huntsman Vincen Coe, who has always been in love with her, takes her in and cares for her when even her own son turns her away. Her chapters don't seem all that important to me until after Dawson's death, though. Dawson's and Clara's sons also turn up here and there; one of them swears fealty to Geder, another is a priest and thus removed from the conflict, and a third leaves Antea in anger.
And now Geder. I've already talked about him a lot, from the other characters' perspectives. At times, he is completely sympathetic. His relationship with Prince Aster, his ward, is one such aspect of the story. They relate to one another, they genuinely enjoy each other's company. Now, there have been several fantasy novels where a bumbling scholar type ends up on the throne. Where usually he becomes a great king. Geder, not so much. He's violent and impulsive, and he doesn't really have any idea what he's doing as regent (since Aster is underage). Geder brought Basrahip and some of the other priests of the spider goddess back to Antea after his journey in the previous novel, and he relies on them to tell him when someone is lying or not. He agrees to build temples to the goddess in every city he conquers. He ends the book by interrogating lots of people to determine their loyalty; the priests tell him whether or not they're lying.
Anyway, the characters are complicated. No Mary Sues here. Sometimes you love them and other times you hate them. But that just makes them seem so much more real. (Geder was borderline for me; whenever he ordered an act of violence, in this book or the last, I had a hard time really understanding why he did it. Cithrin's analysis of him in the end helps a little bit, in retrospect.) So Abraham gets definite points for the characters. Don't know if I mentioned this already or not, but they're also memorable. While I had some trouble with the Antean nobles, the major characters were clear and distinct and I didn't stumble through the book wondering who they were (as sometimes happens when I go a long time between reading a book and its sequel).
The plot was a little fractured; while, say, Cithrin and Dawson were in the same room a few times, they didn't have much (well, anything) to do with each other, and Marcus was removed from just about everyone, for the latter half of the book. I'd say this was a book where the characters needed to get from point A to point B, but that's not really it. Geder doesn't go too far; he starts out fostering Aster and ends up regent for Aster. Dawson ends up dead, and Clara battered down (I guess that was a transformation, though Clara's personality honestly doesn't change all that much, only her circumstances). Cithrin gains some experience and some concessions from Komme Medean, but she wasn't in charge of her own branch at the end of the last book, and she's still not. The political situation has changed; Antea has conquered a neighboring kingdom and is anything but stable (disrupted harvests and all).
The priests of the spider goddess really deserve their own paragraph. They've insinuated themselves even further into Antean political life. They ask Geder to build temples, they help him win battles. They have a sort of psychological power to change people's minds, but it takes lots of repetition and time to truly work. They can tell if someone is telling the truth or not. In short, they don't seem that bad. (Which is actually a nice change from evil cults in other books. The Death Eaters and their Muggle torture, etc. Not really a religious cult, sure.) Kit's quest to destroy the spider goddess suggests there's more to the story than anyone is admitting -- including a certain degree of fallibility on the parts of the priests, and I'm definitely interested in seeing where that goes.
And we mustn't forget about the dragons, the ancient masters of civilization who created the thirteen races of humanity but who are long gone now (we think). I am not sure how many books Abraham has planned for this series (Wikipedia says five, okay, guess that clears that up). Anyway, he could go a couple of different routes. I think the spider cult is going to become more insidious, I think there's going to be another attempt at overthrowing Geder (coming from Clara this time). I hope the dragons don't come back to life. That's a fantasy trope that needs to die if ever I've seen one. WAY overused. But Abraham hasn't gone that way yet, and maybe he won't. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. (Side note: one day I'm going to write a book with evil dragon overlords. There'll be an uprising which the dragons crush. Hope is defeated. End of story. Still got to figure out a way to make people want to read something like that. But it's on my mind now.)
Speaking of the thirteen races, I'm not sure what I think of them just yet. Seems they're rather like races we actually have today, just with more dramatic physical differences (than skin color, eye or nose shape, hair texture, etc.) -- like scales, glowing eyes, tusks, and so forth. I can't keep most of them straight, to be honest. The Drowned are easy, and the Cinnae not so bad (probably because Cithrin is half Cinnae). The Dartinae I remember have glowing eyes. The Firstbloods, of course, I understand. The rest? Not so much. There are some furry otter people who can swim, I remember that. I could look in the back of the book to see what they're called, but it doesn't really matter. It could be interesting if Abraham takes this further, but I'll reserve judgment on that until it happens -- if it happens.
Anyway, I've complained about grammar, I've done some plot summary, I've predicted where I think the story is going to go, I've said what I liked and what I didn't, and I've been writing for a long time. In the end, yes, I'd say read this book, although start with The Dragon's Path first.