A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham. ★★★1/2
The city-state of Saraykeht has grown wealthy off of the cotton trade. Their court poet, Heshai, has put into words and bound an idea and spirit, Seedless, who can remove seeds from cotton with a wave of his hand. Thanks to Heshai and Seedless, no other nation can snatch away Saraykeht’s trade or dare attack for fear of what Seedless might be ordered to do.
But the merchants of Galt have developed a plan. Saraykeht can not be conquered by force as long as Heshai has control over Seedless. But what if they can make him loose control?
Central to their plans is the merchant Marchat Wilsin, head of the Galt trading house in Saraykeht. In his reluctance, he inadvertently gives a hint of what is to come to Amat, his business manager. Amat, her assistant Liat, Liat’s lover, and the poet’s apprentice become the sole hope of saving Saraykeht.
A Shadow in Summer was decent in regards to female characters, which is something important to me in all the books I read. I don’t think I would recommend it specifically for female characters, but it manages to do all of the following:
A) Recognize that women exist
B) Recognize that women do things
C) Recognize that those things that aren’t always about or motivated by men
D) Recognize that there can be multiple women who exist and do things and even interact with each other
Really, these are not high standards but so many books fail to pass them. Thankfully, A Shadow in Summer wasn’t one of them. I liked Amat quite a bit. She’s an older woman who’s clawed her way up from poverty to a position of relative authority and importance. Now she’s finding that under threat. She may be able to keep her position, but at the expense of doing nothing and watching her beloved city fall.
I think I first heard of A Shadow in Summer from a list on great world building in fantasy. Having now read it, I can say with certainty that it deserved its place on that list. Saraykeht has a decidedly non-Western feel, although I’m not sure what the specific cultural influences (if any) were. I loved that the language relied was as much body language as spoken language. Their culture possesses a large number of gestures to communicate feelings such as gratitude or inquiry with subtle variations making them even more expressive. It’s no wonder foreigners have a hard time completely understanding the nuances of communication in Saraykeht!
I also liked how economics played such a role in the narrative. Few fantasy books really consider how their economy functions, so this was a delight. And also a potential sign of just how nerdy I am that I liked this so much…
For all that, A Shadow in Summer isn’t a perfect book. I liked Amat and a couple of the other characters, and I found Seedless fascinating if uneasy. However, I never really loved any of them. I still felt a distance there. Something that kept me hesitant with Amat was how later on in the book she becomes involved with a brothel which contains child sex slaves. It was disturbing how casually the narrative mentioned them and how the utter horror of it was never addressed. Additionally, the fact that they were young boys feels like it ties into the association of homosexuality with pedophilia, particularly because the book didn’t contain any queer representation.
For such a minor part of the narrative, it had a rather large impact on my feelings towards the book. It’s made me waver on whether or not I’m really willing to pick up the sequel. I think I ultimately will continue on with this series, but it won’t have a super high priority. At least it stands on it’s own.
I feel like A Shadow in Summer would appeal to fans of Guy Gavriel Kay. It also reminded me of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, mostly for how the spirits are involved. If you enjoy fantasy with original world building and lots of political intrigue, you should give A Shadow in Summer a look.
Content note: I feel like this book could be difficult to read for those who’ve had miscarriages since a forced abortion plays a pretty heavy role in the plot.