(2017) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Macmillan, £18.99, hrdbk, xiv + 447pp, ISBN 978-1-509-83022-0
The Bear and the Serpent continues Adrian Tchaikovsky's tale that was started in The Tiger and the Wolf and is book two of 'Echoes of the Falls'. If you have not read the first novel I would suggest you start there.
This novel tells of Maniye Many Tracks, champion of her people, who fails to find a home amongst either her father or mothers tribes, so travels south to the river lands to assist Prince Tecuman to become king instead of his twin sister. Meanwhile, Lord Thunder gathers the clans in the north to face a very old enemy. The two quests eventually come together as they realise that one of these fights could be the end of them all.
The story is told from several different perspectives, but they weave together to form a single epic thread, viewing the fates of the world by multiple small perspectives. This is a lovely approach, that runs the risk of either failing to show the bigger picture if the character perspective is too narrow or losing the readers empathy for the characters if their perspective is too wide. It is a narrow path, but Tchaikovsky steers his readers through it masterfully.
Those familiar with the previous 'Shadows of the Apt' series will perhaps be unsurprised that the clans of these tales take on an animal aspect which in this case manifests as an ability for individuals to take on the form of their animal. Some individuals can take on more than one form, including a few special individuals who can take on the form of a larger 'champion' animal. There are hinted at links between this tale and the one of the earlier series. Details of lands, magics and other story elements lead a perceptive reader to consider the early histories of the people and speculate about where their original homeland was and why they might have left it.
Themes of religion and prophecy are much stronger in this book than the previous one. In the first book, we met the priests of the Wolf who keep the secrets of carrying iron and demand sacrifice to his cruel jaws and some hints of the enigmatic followers of the Serpent. In this story, we get the sense that maybe the Serpent and his followers have a larger influence over the land than those in the cold north are aware of. We also find out about the religious customs and practises about the other gods and priest of the southern lands. Of course, no matter which priest you hear from, it does not take long for the reader to realise that they all agree about the coming doom.
The narrative moves along at a reasonable pace, balancing the description of their travels and lands with the interaction and outcomes with those they meet. This is an interesting and rich, complex tale, that keeps your attention throughout. Tchaikovsky yet again demonstrates his superb narrative ability to drawn in a reader with a captivating story.
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