Fiction Reviews

The Air War

(2012) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £8.99, pbk, 652pp, ISBN 978-0-330-54132-9


Silly, silly me. When greeted with the title of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s latest book, I though it might have been a stand-along book, or even the start of another series, but what else could it be other than the latest 'Shadows of the Apt' novel? Number eight, in fact, out of projected series of ten, and it is, as expected, another weighty tome, coming in at 646 pages of text (but only forty two chapters which is enough to make a reluctant reader like me wince). Another fact is that it is actually longer than that, because before we even get to the start of Part One 'The Calm' we get two maps, and a list of the major cast-members based on their function, allegiance or location, and after the narrative has passed, there is a more general glossary of characters, places, organisations and 'things' (this latter, somewhat vague description always makes me smile). The title gives it away, as this is war – the second between the Lowlands and the Wasp Empire, led by the increasingly powerful, and demonic, Empress Seda as the Empire and those who stand against it must develop new technology, new weaponry and new pilots to confront each other in a series of aerial battles.

As mentioned this is book eight and the first of a final trilogy (to be followed by The War Master’s Gate and the final book, The Seal of the Worm, which sounds ever-so-slightly ominous) and to date we have received an almost self-contained first quartet of titles followed by three almost stand-alone books in numbers five, six and seven. Certainly book six The Sea Watch was furthest from the huge broad canvass that Tchaikovsky has been adding to over the years. In a way familiarity breeds contempt, but not in the normal meaning of the expression, rather in that this series has gathered momentum the longer it has gone on, with book seven, Heirs of the Blade being an absolute cracker, and arguably the best of the series – which gives rise to the obvious question - can Tchaikovsky keep up the momentum and even improve on it? And, also, here comes the reverse-contempt part because we want, nay, expect, nay, demand, that some well-rounded, if not exactly well-loved characters reappear in book eight, but are we going to get what we want?

Well, what was I saying about familiarity, because the Tchaikovsky key notes are all here – great characterisation (comprising of villains to be boo-ed or hissed at, and others who have grown and developed in unexpected ways, and a whole host of interesting new characters, but we would have liked to see some of the old, familiar faces who barely get a mention let alone actually appear in the story. I mean do we really need an almost the next generation of characters eight books in?), there is also a healthy dose of political intrigue, and double-dealing, combined with great action sequences powered by technology and magic, even if these battles are a little one-sided and that is clearly on the side of the Wasps, who have regrouped and decided to steam-roller everyone else who doesn’t get out of their path. But they can’t get their own way, can they? Not with two books to go. All in all, the 'Shadows of the Apt' series continues on a rampaging downhill manner, gathering mass and momentum and readers to crush all opposition in its path. Fans will devour it, regardless of reviews like this, and even if they are slightly dissatisfied, they will be back for more and counting down the days until the ninth book arrives. Non-fans would be better going back to book one and joining in the fun from the start.

Ian Hunter

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