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Monday, February 2, 2009

“Dragonfly Falling” by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Reviewed by Robert Thompson & Liviu C. Suciu)

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Empire in Black & Gold

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Adrian Tchaikovsky was born in Lincolnshire and studied zoology and psychology at Reading, before practicing law in Leeds. “Dragonfly Falling” is the second volume in the Shadows of the Apt series after Adrian’s debut novel “Empire in Black & Gold”.

ABOUT DRAGONFLY FALLING: Two young companions, Totho and Salma, arrive at Tark to spy on the menacing Wasp army, but are mistakenly apprehended as enemy agents. By the time they are freed, the city is already under siege.

Over in the imperial capital, the young emperor Alvdan, is becoming captivated by a remarkable slave, the mysterious Uctebri who claims to know of magic that can grant eternal life. In Collegium meanwhile, Stenwold is still trying to persuade the city magnates of the dangerous threat that the Wasp Empire represents...

Full of colorful drama and nonstop action involving mass warfare and personal combat, “Dragonfly Falling” brilliantly continues the Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy series that began in “Empire in Black and Gold”.

CLASSIFICATION: Like it’s predecessor, “Dragonfly Falling” mixes old-school themes with innovative concepts for a familiar, yet refreshingly new take on epic fantasy. Think the writing style and accessibility of
Brandon Sanderson, the scope and warfare of Steven Erikson, the intrigue and espionage of Jacqueline Carey, and the mix of science & magic of Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian novels.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 688 pages divided over forty-three chapters, and includes a hand-drawn map of the Lowlands and surrounding environs. Narration is in the third-person via numerous POVs, both major & minor, including returning characters Stenwold Maker, his niece Che, his ward Tynisa, Prince Salma of the Dragonfly Commonweal, the artificer Totho, Thalric of the Wasp Rekef, the Mantid Tisamon, Sperra, etc. New faces include the lord of the Wasp Empire Alvdan the Second, his younger sister Seda, Uctebri the Sarcad, General Maxin of the Rekef, General Alder of the Wasp Empire, Felise Mienn, Destrachis, the Ant-kinden Parops, and many others.

Dragonfly Falling” is a direct sequel to “Empire In Black & Gold”, and is the second volume of the Shadows of the Apt series which has at least three more volumes planned—volume three, “Blood of the Mantis”, is currently scheduled for publication on August 7, 2009, while volumes four & five are in the negotiating stage. So expect lots of story left to be told after completing “Dragonfly Falling”, although the book does come to an acceptable stopping point like its predecessor.

February 6, 2009 marks the UK Paperback publication of “Dragonfly Falling” via
Pan Macmillan. Cover art provided by Jon Sullivan.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: Between introducing the uniquely imaginative concept of ‘Insect-kinden’ and showcasing a well-rounded display of characterization, world-building, story, pacing and prose, Adrian Tchaikovsky’sEmpire in Black and Gold” was not only an impressive debut, it was also a memorable start to an exciting new fantasy series. A direct continuation of “Empire in Black & Gold”, “Dragonfly Falling” is basically more of the same, just on a larger and more entertaining scale...

Like “Empire in Black and Gold”, the highlight of “Dragonfly Falling” is once again the Insect-kinden who, with their diverse Arts and philosphies, continues to lend the saga a distinctive quality despite utilizing such familiar fantasy themes as war, slavery, conspiracy, racial/culturual barriers, etc. For example, battles and sieges are given a whole new dynamic because of the different ways that each race fights—the Ant-kinden use their hive-mind to give them an advantage in tactics and coordination; the Wasps ruthlessly use their superior numbers and Auxillian slaves to overwhelm the enemy, yet are also forward-thinking in exploiting the weaknesses of other races; the Moth-kinden use magic; and the Beetle-kinden use their artificers to forge new weapons of war. Other examples of the uniqueness that the Insect-kinden bring to the books are the way Bee-kinden can be forced into slavery just by the capture of their ‘Queen’ to Spider-kinden who are masters of deception and subterfuge, which makes loving one extremely dicey, especially if she’s already betrayed you once. As far as new Insect-kinden, “Dragonfly Falling” introduces Woodlouse-kinden, the giant Mole Crickets and the vampire-like Mosquito-kinden. Unfortunately, we don’t get to learn too much about them, although I expect the Mosquito-kinden will play a much larger role in future volumes. On the flipside, we do receive a somewhat deeper look at Spider and Mantis-kinden cultures.

Story-wise, with the groundwork already laid out in “Empire in Black & Gold”, “Dragonfly Falling” starts out fast and furious and doesn’t really let up for the entire book. For the most part, “Dragonfly Falling” concentrates on the Wasp Empire’s invasion of the Lowlands including seiges at Tark and Collegium, the takeover of Helleron, and the Battle of the Rails; but at the same time there’s a lot of other stuff going on as well—the Wasp Emperor’s desire for immortality, a power struggle among the Wasp Empire’s CIA-like Rekef sect, a Dragonfly-kinden’s quest for revenge, Salma finding the Butterfly dancer Aagen’s Joy, Tynisa embracing her heritage, and a magical ‘Shadow Box’ just to name a few.

Of the characters, Stenwold Maker, Che, Tynisa, Tisamon, Prince Salma, Totho, and Thalric remain among the series’ most important players, but—with the exception of Stenwold, Totho, Thalric and possibly Salma—they take a backseat to a ton of new characters that could be just as, if not more important going forward. Among the new faces, I particularly enjoyed the storylines involving the haunted Felise Mienn, the Mosquito-kinden Uctebri the Sarcad, and the Colonel-Auxillian Dariandrephos, the Wasp Empire’s most gifted artificer. Strangely, the Moth-kinden Achaeos had a really small role in the book, but it looks like he will play a much bigger part in future volumes, along with a certain Spider spymaster…

The setting meanwhile, with all of its technological advances, remains fantastic with the book introducing all sorts of new toys like submersibles, one-person winged fliers, a sandbow and Totho’s devastating invention, the snapbow—a firearm basically—which promises to not only change the face of the war, but the future of the world. Magic in the meantime, remains subtle, but the Darakyon are still around, Uctebri supposedly has the power to grant Alvdan immortality, and there’s that aforementioned Shadow Box. In short, you just get the feeling that magic and technology are going to soon collide with one another in this series with catastrophic results…

On the negative side, “Dragonfly Falling” is plagued by pretty much the same problems that “Empire in Black & Gold” was including lackluster background history, POVs that occasionlly switch between characters without warning, a narrative that is at times predictable, and prose that is a bit bland—even if it is consistent and accessible. However, with “Dragonfly Falling’s” stronger and more engaging story, a better cast of characters, and the book’s more epic scope, I found such issues to be even less of a nonfactor than it was when reading Adrian’s debut.

Overall, “Dragonfly Falling” is another impressive offering from Adrian Tchaikovsky which builds on the solid foundation established by “Empire in Black & Gold”, while setting the stage for what promises to be exciting and dark times for the rest of the Shadows of the Apt series. Personally, I can’t wait for more…

LIVIU’S ANALYSIS:Empire in Black and Gold” was a strong debut, very innovative and well thought-out with the Insect Kinden; their division betwee Apt, Inapt and those in-between; and a very believable geopolitical structure. However, the novel was a bit bland in style, setting up the milieu took a couple of hundred pages or so that were slower from an action point-of-view than the rest, and some of the characters were not up to carrying the novel on their own, most notably Stenwold Maker who did not make that credible a spy master for me, though Thalric and Tisamon compensated a lot for that. In “Dragonfly Falling”, the writing improves considerably and the book gets into the thick of the things from the beginning so it's a faster read—at least if you enjoyed the first volume.

The plot has some interesting twists that surprised me, though it remains to be seen how they will be played out in “Blood of the Mantis”. I liked a lot of the new characters that were introduced since they were more interesting for me than the original ones, and even Stenwold gets into his own here both as War Master and transformed by his relationship with Arianna. Tisamon and Tynisa steal the show whenever they appear, and even the main villain of book one, Thalric, may have a path to redemption. But for me the most interesting character in “Dragonfly Falling” was Colonel-uberEngineer Drephos who just dominated every page he appears in. The weakest new additions were the ones in the Imperial Capital, especially the Wasp-Emperor and his minions, though his sister and some mysterious courtiers/prisoners may have an important role in the upcoming books.

I also really liked the geopolitical extension to the Spider Lands. For back story, Mr. Tchaikovsky has a lot of material on his website including essays about the Apt universe, Kinden artwork as well as quite a few original stories that tie in with the main storyline. I’ve read all of that material and I urge every fan of the series to do so as well since it adds a lot of nuance to this already superb series. And it's easy and free to check out the stories and essays!

If there is something that I did not like with the book, it’s the sometimes jarring switch between POVs, times and places, which could have been done smoother, but that is a minor niggle.

Smoother than the first one and packed with more action and a greater sense of wonder, “Dragonfly Falling” is a superb continuation to “Empire in Black & Gold”...


ediFanoB said...

I'm halfway through Empire in Black and Gold and it's a damn good read.
So I was nosey to read a review of Dragonfly Falling which I received yesterday.

Well done!!

After reading your review I need to speed up reading of Empire in Black and Gold.

I look forward to read about Woodlouse-kinden, the giant Mole Crickets and the vampire-like Mosquito-kinden.

Robert said...

I'm glad you're enjoying "Empire in Black and Gold"! It's a great book, and as we mentioned in the review, the sequel is even better :) The Woodlouse-kinden and the giant Mole Crickets by the way, are more like bit pieces, but the Mosquito-kinden are very interesting...

Eoin said...

These books are very good i like that they keep introdrucing new kinden as it keeps the mystery of just how many there are in it im on dragonfly falling :)

W&D Books said...

I just finished the full trilogy the other day, it really is very good. Im not sure but Im pretty certain it will fall into my top 5 trilogy list.


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