My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Opening fifteen years after the events of “A Shadow in Summer,” the second installment in the Long Price Quartet opens with the death of one of the Khai’s sons, a signal that the battle for succession among his sons has begun. In Daniel Abraham’s political system, the Khai’s sons all fight and kill each other for the right to take over the throne when their father dies (similar to rising in rank in the classic “Star Trek” episode, ‘Mirror, Mirror’) while the women are either dismissed back to their original home (in the case of the wives) or married off for political gain (in the case of the daughters).
The first death sends two sons into hiding, fearing that it’s their long-lost brother Otah returning from the shadows to inherit the throne. Otah vanished in disgrace but could be mounting a comeback, they fear and they could be the next targets. Maati is sent to the city to investigate the claim and to possibly flush Otah out into the open. Maati is one of the few who would recognize Otah from their dealings in the first novel and is facing a change to win a bit of redemption of his own. His failures in the first novel have left him in disgrace, even to the point of losing Liat.
In many ways, the political maneuvering at the heart of “A Betrayal in Winter” reminded me of the plots within plots of Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” The reader is clued in early on to who is really behind the plot to take out the brothers and seize power and watching as strings are pulled and things begin to unravel because they don’t go according to plan is fascinating. The central schemer is the Khai’s daugher Idaan, who wants to marry for love not just to win political points for her father. To this end, she arranges to maneuver the situation and marry Adrah, the son of a powerful rival political family and one who has powerful connections to forces in a neighboring country. Watching the duo plot and scheme is one of the novel’s more fascinating storylines as is watching the best laid plans of both slowly become more and more complex and complicated. At several points, things don’t go exactly according to plan, leading to some interesting shifts mid-stream to cover their track and assure the intended outcome.
Of course, this puts a strain on their relationship and watching it slowly come unraveled is another fascinating development over the course of the story.
By skipping ahead fifteen years, Abraham has allowed the story, characters and universe of “The Long Price Quartet” to grow, develop and change naturally, while still leaving much of what we came to know about them from the first book in place. Otah wants only to cut all ties with his past, only to once again see his attempts to distance himself from who he was catch up to him with unintended consequences. Maati is also haunted by his failures, but still isn’t willing to compromise on certain things, including his defying orders to return once most of the evidence points to Otah’s involvement in the political maneuverings to take over as Khai. Abraham fills in enough of the details of what the characters have been doing to satisfy readers but leaves out a few other tantalizing details so as to hopefully keep things interesting in the next two installments. (I’m dying to know what happened to Liat and her child after she and Maati went their separate ways.)
As all good sequels should, “A Betrayal in Winter” takes the foundation from the first novel and builds on it, expanding the characters and universe in the series. It’s a story that you could read without having first picked up “Summer” though some of the references would be lost on you and the nuances of the characters might not be there. Again, the story is one that’s self contained but there are seeds of a richer tapestry being developed here and one that continues to intrigue me. It’s a sequel that’s as good if not better than the original and one that sets up some intriguing possibilities for the next installment.