Daniel Abraham: A Shadow in Summer, A Betrayal in Winter
These are the first two books of Abraham’s fantasy series The Long Price Quartet; the final one was just published last month.
They are technically fantasy, as I said, but it’s more fantasy in the style of Guy Gavriel Kay; they’re normal human character-driven stories set in a vaguely Asian-style culture that doesn’t happen to exist in reality. Although the existence of the supernatural is important for the culture (largely for economic reasons), the use of magic very rarely enters the plot itself.
These books are excellent in a fairly quiet way. There’s a lot of thinking relative to the amount of doing, but it’s quality thinking. The plot moves at a deliberate pace, but that gives everyone time to react to it instead of being carried along by it as it hurtles to a climax. The characters are well drawn, react believably to the situations they find themselves in, and change interestingly over the course of the books. Some of them have more moral fiber than others, but no one’s purely good or evil, and the “bad” ones have some redeeming qualities while the “good” ones have real and believable weaknesses.
Fifteen years pass between the first and second book, and my understanding is that there are similar gaps between the others. As I said when I reviewed The Judging Eye, I like this approach, as it keeps the plot from getting bogged down too much as the author feels the need to continue every thread left over from the previous book. The later books have just as good reviews, if not better, as the earlier ones, so I will definitely finish the series out.