A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet, #1)
Shadow in Summer had one of the most interesting magical systems and cultures I've encountered. In this world, poets use words and rhythms to trap ideas into the corporeal forms of andat. In the main culture, gestures and positions play as much role in conversation and nuance as words. The whole sense of the book is that of a complex, intricate world that we barely glimpse. It is beautifully done.
My problem with the book, as seems to be my constant refrain, is the characters. They are all so desperately unhappy, and most of their misery is self-inflicted. It seems that all of the characters are unable to distinguish between justice and vengeance, and seek the latter without counting the potential cost. The characters have high aims--or at least what they perceive to be high aims--but it is somewhat appalling how low they will stoop to achieve their goals. As I read on, I kept thinking of the old poem, "all for a horseshoe nail." I have the sense that the rest of the series will follow the collapse of civilization, all for a petty plan to improve trade, a woman's desire for vengeance caged as justice, and the pride and arrogance of the other members of the cast.
I also felt distanced from the characters, somehow. Their emotions and goals felt stilted, and I had real trouble relating to them. I also absolutely detested one of the main characters: a vain, stupid, selfish girl who I think we are supposed to sympathize with. No one in the world was kind without exacting a price later on. Almost all the characters are consumed by hatred, and those who are not are consumed by guilt. I found it difficult to inhabit such a place long enough to even finish the book.
The book really brought up a lot of questions about the difference between vengeance and justice, but it wasn't something that the characters actually explored. Each chose a position and went pig-headedly onwards, apparently not even considering the pain they will bring to others.
Overall, although I loved the world the characters inhabited, I kept switching over to other books (something I don't generally do) just to get away from the characters' self-inflicted misery.