(2011) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £12.99, pbk, 622pp, ISBN 978-0-230-75699-1
Here we go, book seven in the Shadows of the Apt series, and I do not really expect newcomers to start here, not a good idea, go back to Empire in Black and Gold which came out back in 2008, and here we are with the second book in the series that was published in 2011, with two more titles – The Air War and Warmaster’s Gate due out in 2012. He certainly is prolific. It is good advice to start at, well, uh, the start, but in this latest book Tchaikovsky is using some characters – namely, Varmen the Sentinel, Dal Arche and his brigands, Lowre Cean and Avaris the Spider - who have appeared in some of his short stories that feature on his website so while it is not essential to have read them first, it does add to the fun, especially a ghost story weaved – ouch – by a certain Spider.
Tor have pushed the boat out with this latest book, featuring a beautiful cover illustration by Jon Sullivan. Inside is another weighty tome starting with three maps, and (something that always makes me laugh) a one page-summary of what has gone before – as if that will ever work. Some forty-odd chapters and over six hundreds pages later we get to the glossary which as a rule never really do much for me, but this one has the virtue of being relatively short and divided into three sections – characters, places, organisations and “things”, so it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Constant readers will be familiar with the world of these books, but for the uninitiated they are populated by the 'kinden' who have insect-like characteristics and abilities, as well as being divided into being Apt – with the ability to make and use mechanical devices; and Inapt, who are fairly useless on the mechanical front, but compensated by having varying degrees of magical abilities. They are too many different kinds of kinden to dwell on here, but think of the major varieties of insect and you get the picture. They also live in certain areas – the Lowlands, the Spiderlands, and the Commonweal among others. Most of the plot in the latest book takes place in the war-ravaged Commonweal, home of the Dragonfly kinden who waged 12 years of war with the aggressive Wasp Empire, until an uneasy treaty was signed between them. Here, Tchaikovsky revisits old characters, mainly from book five – The Scarab Path - and annoyingly pays little regard for the events and characters in the previous book The Sea Watch.
What does work well is having the story dominated by three female characters – Tynisa Maker, a death dealing half-breed who is part-spider, part-mantis who has fled to the Commonweal to escape the ghosts of her past and become a ghost herself; Che Maker (Tynisa’s beetle) sister who has lost her Apt abilities and become a powerful Inapt. Likewise, Seda the teenage Wasp Empress has also acquired the magical abilities of the Mosquito kinden and maybe it’s because she’s a teenager, but she has certainly embraced the dark side and everyone else is going to pay for it. Yep, the Wasps are on the march.
The writing just keeps getting better and better, along with the characterisation and the dilemmas the 'cas' must deal with – Tchaikovsky obviously knows his universe and creations backwards. This is a big, grand, sweeping narrative taking us through a relatively unknown part of the kinden world, but there is the usual amount of scheming and intrigue and action, exotic places, and exotic characters – Thalric, the Wasp is a particularly standout character, but how many new kinden does Tchaikovsky have up his writing sleeves? Unmissable for fans of the series. I’ll meet you here if you are new to the series. Heirs of the Blade promises dark days ahead. Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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