The Widow's House is the latest book in Daniel Abraham's Dagger & Coin series. In many ways, this series is what I wish A Song of Fire and Ice was. They're both sprawling epic fantasy, they're both in worlds that were in decline, they're both war-torn settings, they're both told through a series of point-of-view characters, they're both (mostly) low-fantasy -- as opposed to Tolkien-like or D&D-like high fantasy. These similarities aren't too surprising, considering the connections between the two authors. It's just that I like Abraham's world so much better, I like his writing style better, and I like that fact that he seems to have an end-game in mind; not just in mind, but in sight.
This world is very well designed and complicated. Complicated enough that I needed to make a cheat sheet for myself, but unlike SoFaI, it's not from a jillion characters with eight different names, it's the fact that he's not quite as low-fantasy, so he has multiple races. He has his orc-alikes, his wolf-people, his elves, his dwarves (sort of), so on and so forth. However, since there's thirteen or fourteen different races, it can be a bit of a blur. Thankfully, every book has an appendix at the end listing all the races and describing them; as an extra bonus, it's written by a highly biased in-world scholar, which makes it a little amusing.
The Widow's House continues the simmering troubles that have been brewing for three books now. Abraham writes with a deft hand here, as his primary "villain" is also a POV character, which deeply humanizes him. Lord Regent Geder Palliako is a properly crafted villain. He truly believes that he is making the best of a terrible situation. He doesn't see himself as a villain, and would honestly be stunned to learn that pretty much everyone outside his very small circle considers him such. He's done horrible things, but he's a leader in a time of turbulence; what person in that situation hasn't? Of course, some of this is because of the power of the Spider Priests, but they're just as delusional as Geder. It's less a "RELIGION IS BAD LAWL" statement (looking at you R'hllor) than more a warning against echo chambers in general. At least, that's my take-away.
While the series never really spun its wheels just marking time, it did slow down a bit so Abraham could move all his pieces into place. There's a little bit of that here, but he's got everyone where he needs them, and events are proceeding at an ever-increasing pace. There are still plots and conspiracies, and secrets-within-secrets and all that good stuff (this is as much a political thriller as it is a fantasy novel), but events aren't faffing about any more.
He has also managed to include what is possibly the greatest scene in any fantasy novel ever:
Cary spoke first. "Did we do something? Did we.. defeat it?"
"No, we didn't. I'm not sure quite how he managed it," Marcus said, carefully sheathing the sword, "but I do believe our great scaled friend here is drunk."I mean, how do you top that? Suck it, Temeraire. Ahem. Anyway. Yeah, it's book four in a series, so don't even bother looking at it unless you've read the first three books. And considering how intricate some plots are, and how interconnected everything is, I frequently found myself wishing I'd reread the series before starting this. I had to bounce back to previous books to check and recheck things because I found myself getting lost ("Wait, what's he doing there?").
Still, this is an amazing series. Anyone who's a fan of Fire and Ice, and especially anyone who has found the last few books less than thrilling, the Dagger and Coin series is well worth checking out. And, as a bonus, he's planning on making it only five books, and it looks like he'll hit that mark. He's no longer introducing weird side-plots and fraying new threads; he's actually tying them off. It's the end-game now, and The Spider's War should be the final book. Once this series finishes, I imagine that I'll be recommending it to anyone even vaguely interested.