THE DRAGON'S PATH was one of my happy surprises from 2011. While the content of the story was not exactly original, it was a book that I grew more and more impressed with as the book went on. One story decision after another just seemed right, and with Abraham's economical writing, they came one after the other. And there was something appealing about the way that Abraham wrote the POVs of even loathsome characters with total sympathy, not using the kind of implied judgments that (say) George R. R. Martin will use when writing about a Cersei or a Theon Greyjoy, so I was surprised more than once to discover that the character I was following was in fact on the wrong side. I became very excited with Abraham as a new-to-me voice in epic fantasy.
(And as a long time GRRM fan, I have to appreciate a series that comes out at the same time every year.)
I'm disappointed to report that with THE KING'S BLOOD, the bloom has started to come off the rose. Abraham's sure hand with the story fails him a couple of times here, and I became aware of the author making something happen because he needed it to happen, not because it flowed out of the characters organically. A character needs to go on a quest, and sure enough events are arranged so that he has no other option. Cithrin needs something to do in a story that doesn't revolve much around either the Medean bank or Porte Olivia, and once again events are arranged so that she is in a position to do so.
I think the problem is a somewhat unusual one, for fantasy: the book is too short. As with THE DRAGON'S PATH, THE KING'S BLOOD is in truth a 300 page novel that only approaches 500 pages through ambitious type-setting. (Presumably Orbit conclude that a slender epic fantasy volume would not sell.) What the book needs is more room to allow the story to seem more organic. As it is, even developments that make perfect sense don't land as they should because the reader doesn't have time to get invested in the status quo before Abraham is busy upending it.
The book is still entertaining and easy to read, and I still enjoy reading about Cithrin and Geder and Dawson Killiam. (Marcus is a less successful character, as his tragic backstory totally fails to register.) But here's hoping that next volume is more substantial.