01/08/2012. Contributed by Vinca Russell
pub: TOR-UK/Macmillan. 612 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-230-70413-8).
check out websites: www.panmacmillan.com and www.shadowsoftheapt.com
When Stenwold Maker (Sten) witnesses the fall of the city of Myna to the Wasp army and knows that it's just a matter of time before they reach his home city of Collegium in the Lowlands. After seventeen years trying to warn a disinterested Assembly, the day has finally come when Wasps are threatening the Lowlands, but as their numbers increase, Sten is still fighting to convince people that they do not come in peace. Taking four of his most capable students, Sten sets off for the city of Helleron, gateway to the Lowlands, and tries to prevent the assimilation of dozens of peoples into the unforgiving Empire of Wasps. Standing in his way is the devoutly loyal Captain Thalric, a Wasp soldier and part of the greatly feared Rekef, who will do anything to serve the Empire. As their paths move closer together, the survival of the Lowlands rests on the heads of a few brave individuals and the outcome is anything but certain.
'Empire In Black And Gold' by Adrian Tchaikovsky is the first book in a planned ten-part fantasy series, 'Shadows Of The Apt'. This stunning debut novel sets up an incredible fantasy world and is one of the best series openers I've encountered.
The underlying principle of the world Tchaikovsky has created is that there are many races of humans who each share characteristics with certain insects and arachnids for the pedantic. Each race or kinden has its own unique magical abilities called Arts and the people are also visually diverse. I'll just give a few examples. The Beetle-kinden are short and squat with a good grasp of mechanical objects - ability to use machines is called being Apt - and have Arts that include developing wings or being able to see in the dark. In contrast, the Mantis-kinden are tall and lean with Arts that enhance fighting skills and speed. The Ant-kinden are a quiet people who live in large cities and their Art is that they can communicate telepathically with other Ants from their own city so that they act as a collective instead of individuals. These are just a few examples, but Tchaikovsky has clearly thought about the different insects represented and has peopled his world accordingly to show off many of the insect traits. In this book alone, we encounter not only the Beetle-, Ant- and Mantis-kinden mentioned above, but also Moth-, Butterfly-, Dragonfly-, Spider-,Wasp- and even Thorn Bug-kinden. It's an amazing selection and a really unique way of representing different races, each of which also seems to have a fully developed history.
With such an incredible world, it is important to have a good narrative so that this can be fully explored and Tchaikovsky really doesn't disappoint. The plot is fast-paced from beginning to end and, with each chapter, I found myself drawn more and more into the story. There is a real build-up of momentum and tension as the book progresses. There are a lot of battles, which allow the Arts and kinden traits to be showcased and quite a lot of detail in terms of the mechanical items that the Apt races develop. It becomes a little steampunk at times with airships, clockwork coaches, lightning-driven trains and repeating crossbows and the technological level of the different races is clearly shown through their different gadgets. The story also brings in elements of the politics and history of each of the kinden so that we really get a sense of how the current events tie in with the past and why the different kinden interact in certain ways with each other.
There is also good development of individual characters and their relationships. We feel the burden of debt between certain characters, the developing love between other characters and the worry and fear for their families and kinden in the face of the seemingly unstoppable Empire. Even with the Wasps, there are emotional moments and Thalric is presented as a very down-to-earth character who just happens to be prepared to do anything to serve the Empire. I think it's always a temptation to present the bad guys as nothing but evil so it's good to have such a balanced approach to characters on both sides.
I raced through 'Empire In Black And Gold' and loved every page of it. It's a really impressive debut with everything I could want from a fantasy novel and it promises great things for the rest of the series. Next please!
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