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Monday, August 10, 2009

"Blood of the Mantis" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Order "Blood of the Mantis" HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Empire in Black & Gold
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Dragonfly Falling

INTRODUCTION: Here at FBC we are big time fans of the Kinden series which is an epic story with multiple characters and threads in a very special and superbly done universe, the one of the Insect Kinden People both Apt (engineers - Beetle, Fly, Ant, Wasp, Bee Kinden) or Inapt (magicians, warriors and masters of intrigue - Spiders, Moth, Mantis, Mosquito, Scorpion, Dragonfly - Kinden).

There is magic and engineering, epic fantasy story lines and steampunk ones, love stories, betrayals, and intrigue, mysterious and powerful artifacts and deadly mass produced weapons, flying people and flying machines. There are large scale battles with aerial bombings, rail invasions, mechanized attacks as well as sword duels, night attacks in forests, initiation rituals and knife fights in crowded streets or dark rooms. The books pack so much and develop so many characters and threads that they are starting to form one of the most complex series in recent sff.

On the official website linked above too there is everything you want to know about the back-story, essays about this or that topic, short stories set in between or before the novels, some featuring minor characters from them, superb drawings of the various Kinden and more.

Note also that the split into Apt and Inapt generally follows Kinden line as above, but not necessarily since one of the best and deadliest engineer around is a halfbreed Moth, while conversely a Wasp "magician" is introduced in this latest volume.

OVERVIEW: I will refer the reader to the two reviews above and the Apt website for a general overview of the Insect Kinden universe while noting that "Blood of the Mantis" starts with a map of the eastern part of the Wasp Empire and the "free" cities to the South of it that complements nicely the map of the western part on the author site where the action of the first two novels takes place. Then there is a Glossary with people, places and organizations form the first two novels which do not include some new important characters, towns and secret organizations that appear in this book, while the action of "Dragonfly Falling" is summarized on one page.

"Blood of the Mantis" stands at about 430 pages divided into 26 chapters with three main theaters of action. We follow the struggle for the powerful magical artifact "Shadow Box" in the Imperial border town of Jerez populated mainly by Skater Kinden (water walkers and smugglers) where Achaeos with Tisamon and Tynissa as bodyguards and Thalric and Gaved as guides go. In the meantime Che and Nero go far east beyond the Spiderlands to the free city of Solarno led by "renegade" spiders where they met pilot and feisty Fly Kinden girl Taki, while Stenwold goes to Sarn to cement the Lowlands alliance.

There are snippet views of the Wasp Imperial court and the various characters there, most notably Alvdan II, his sister and sole surviving relative (who is under a continually postponed death sentence) Seda and powerful Mosquito Kinden sorcerer Uctebri, of Salma and his rag tag army, of Totho and Drephos and of the rest of the main characters but those three threads above constitute the main body of the novel.

ANALYSIS: "Blood of the Mantis" starts with a bang when Taki uses her fast orthopter Esca Volenti and great piloting skills to help a slave ship of Solarno escape pirates; taking passage on the ship, Che and Nero are coming to warn Solarno about the Wasps and try and forge an alliance with the city to prevent the wasps opening a Southeastern front against the Spiderlands. Or so they believe... Of course there is a "friendly" Wasp (Rekef) presence in Solarno which courts the various factions that jostle for supremacy.

The novel then goes back in time to its true beginning some months ago at the end of "Dragonfly Falling" and this new technique of throwing a chapter ahead in time to loop back in time is repeated later in the novel and makes for added drama.

I noticed one more technical change in this novel as opposed to the first two leaving aside the considerable reduction in page count from 600+ to 400+ - the jumps between threads are rarer, each thread having more space to develop and that makes for a much smoother reading experience. I was very pleasantly surprised at how tight and fast paced this novel is, as opposed to the more sprawling first two installments, while keeping the same superb sense of wonder and introducing quite a few new "goodies" including one of the few Assassin Bug Kinden still around and some others that I would not spoil here...

The action is very easy to follow, the characters threads are very well delineated and the writing style is very smooth making "Blood of the Mantis" the best book of the series so far from those points of view at least, though sometimes I missed the sprawl of the first two novels. As it should be clear form the above, the novel expands the scope of the series by introducing new lands and new Kinden, with enough intrigue, sword fights, ambushes and with airborne assaults and aerial fighting that would not be out of place in a book set in modern times. And then there is magic and here the sinister Uctebri truly shines, while the goings on in Jerez will please even jaded fantasy fans.

If there is a negative, that is the fact that the novel it is much more of a setup book than "Dragonfly Falling"; that one left us with 3-4 threads, this one adds 3-4 more so Shadows of the Apt is going to be a long series for sure. The ending comes at a natural stopping point in the series and there are some great twists, while of the main characters I have to say that Tisamon still rocks, being the coolest sword master in recent fantasy.

Highly, highly recommended and if Mr. Tchaikovsky can continue the high level of quality achieved here combined with the sense of wonder and great characters, this series will be one for the ages. Already after three volumes and Shadows of the Apt is becoming one of the most complex recent fantasy series and I strongly urge you to visit the official site linked above and sample the many goodies there.

I asked Mr. Tchaikovsky's publicist at Tor about further series plans and she graciously answered with the following:

"The books are currently being published at 6 monthly intervals, the next one will be called Salute the Dark and will be published on 5th February 2010. The following books are scheduled for July 2010 and February 2011 but titles are yet to be confirmed"


Errant Knave said...

I was attracted by the cover, but unsure about the content. Thanks for helping me decide to start something new.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for getting some info out on the future of the series. I had been looking at my copies of the first two books wondering whether or not to read just yet. I'll probably hold for a bit.

Liviu said...

If you have a chance to browse book 1 it's worth checking this series out since while early yet it may become a big time favorite long ongoing series on par with the sf ones I love so much that are running in 10+ volumes and still strong (J. Carey Kushiel/Naamah is ongoing too but book 7 moved ahead a lot in time so does not really count)


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