(2013) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £14.99, pbk, 716pp, ISBN 978-0-230-75701-1
This is book nine of the 'Shadows of the Apt' series, dedicated to the late, great Robert Holdstock, and runs to some 660 pages, framed by a map of the Lowlands and its environs after the Air War (a conflict whose details were recounted in the previous book called, not surprisingly, The Air War, a list of the principal players, and a nifty two-page summary of the previous eight books (like that works, you would be a fool to start with book nine. Like it says on the card you were given when you landed on this square, do not pass book two, get back to Empire in Black and Gold, the first book of the series), then we are into forty one pages of action before some 'epilogues', yes, 'epilogues' and Tchaikovskyís usual glossary made up of characters, places, organisations and 'things'. And as a bonus and an appetite-whetter for the final book in the series there is a 52 page short story called 'Heart of the Green'.
As for the novel itself? Well, we are nearly at the end, and this is book two of the final part of the series which makes up a trio of titles. The first four books in the series made up a quartet, followed by three books which made a middle trilogy. Now there is only one more book to go before the last title of the series, The Seal of the Worm, and it time to make a stand, to win or lose, and if you are going to lose, then decide how you will die, even if it is fighting street by street against the invading Wasp army when your city has fallen. Itís war, on a whole range of fronts, particularly in the air where War Master Stenwold Maker thinks he can protect Collegium with his aerial fleet, but perhaps the Wasps have a trick or two up their sleeves, and there is a whole range of weaponry on display from the conventional to the magical as the Wasp Empire helped by the Spider Kinden wage war on the Lowlands occupied by the Beetle and Ant Kinden while Seda, the Wasp Empress and Che, the Beetle Empress search the treacherous forests of the Mantis kingdom where a civil war rages between the Mantis kind for an ancient power with the potential to rule or save the world which is under the control of a mysterious War Master.
Big, bold, breath-taking, a bit of a bloodbath in places, with Tchaikovsky revealing the plot like a master puppeteer with the skill and confidence not to get his strings caught up as parallel strands of the plot unfold. One strand is clearly the technological 'apt' strand, while the other is the magical 'inapt' strand, and he is not adverse to ruthlessly killing off some major characters, even some newer characters who barely got a look in since their introduction in the previous book. War Masterís Gate takes some interesting twists and turns, and even ends on several cliff-hanger moments, which clearly have to be continued, or resolved as we head towards the sadly, inevitable end, but what a ride it has been. Expect more breath-taking invention in book ten, and quite a few twists and turns. Itís not over yet. Recommended, of course.
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