That thing, where you binge a series of fantasy books, it feels so naughty doesn’t it? Like sitting with a box of chocolates and barely stopping until you hit the next layer. I did that last month with the first four volumes of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series.
We start with book 1, Empire in Black and Gold. My first impulse was to four star this novel, the first in a series of ten, but I thought about it and realised that I was comparing it against The Tiger and The Wolf, a book published eight years later by a vastly more experienced storyteller. It didn’t seem fair to withhold that one star when I’d enjoyed the story so much and was ready to pick up book 2 straight away. So, five it is.
Empire follows the typical fantasy path of assembling a mismatched group from different parts of the story’s world, adding some conflict and a hint of romance, and sending them off on a quest. The hook in these novels is that their home cities and the people within are physically defined by an affinity to a type of insect. So, whilst all the characters are fully human, they have some characteristics of, e.g. spiders, moths or beetles, sometimes to a degree that appears to be supernatural or monstrous to others outside their group. The quest that the young people have been set is to gather evidence that the Wasps are mounting an invasion of the Lowlands, the home of several cities and cultures. On the way there are many battles, a bit of romance, a parent / child reunion that could end very badly, and lots of intrigue. Book 1 of any series has a lot of ground to cover, and although my personal taste would be for fewer fight scenes and more intrigue, this is a book about war, after all.
Book 2, Dragonfly Falling, continues the story as a typical fantasy book 2 – Engrossing storyline, lots of battles and fight scenes. Great character development for the group of youngsters that we first met in book 1.
Book 3, Blood of the Mantis is less bloody, with more world building and character development. We get some time to get to know the characters a bit more, allowing us to get invested in some of them against our better judgement …
Book 4, Salute the Dark – It’s all battles and fights and plots isn’t it? This has the feel of a final book in a series, as Tchaikovsky draws together his various characters. The Empire of the Wasps may have over-reached itself, as revolution, rebellion and resistance flare up at city and individual levels. Prepare to be heartbroken.
At this point I took a break to read and review Camilla Bruce’s ‘The Witch in the Well’ and to enjoy the tasty morsel that is ‘The Photographer’ by Maxim Jakubowski, a dark and literary short story brought to us by Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press series of chapbooks. My review of The Witch in the Well is posted separately.
Next, for February, more from Shadows of the Apt.