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Friday, February 19, 2010

"Salute the Dark" by Adrian Tchaikovsky with bonus first peek at its US cover by artist Jon Sullivan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Order "Salute the Dark"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Empire in Black & Gold
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Dragonfly Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Blood of the Mantis”
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

INTRODUCTION: As I mentioned in my Anticipated 2010 Books post, the Shadows of the Apt series has become one of the most complex fantasy series I am currently reading in terms of the number of characters, geographical spread, technological acumen and magical powers. A series that features chemical WMD's at one end and magical WMD's at the other, with anything from small planes and big airships, paratrooper assaults and aerial dogfights, repeating crossbows and armored vehicles to the personal gun-like sting ability of the Wasp Kinden,
duels and gladiatorial combats that are as good as anything we see in historical fiction and the mind bending magic of the Moth and Mosquito Kinden is bound to be complex, and the wonder of it is how the pieces fit together in a smooth whole.

I had extremely high expectations for Salute the Dark and not only they were fulfilled and more, but the manner in which that happened by essentially concluding the main threads started in Empire in Black and Gold, so that these four books read like a finished series, surprised me and raised my expectations even more for the next book The Scarab Path which vaulted to become one of my three top anticipated books of the summer.

For a more detailed overview of the series universe, our reviews of earlier books provide synopsis, while the author' site has lots and lots of goodies, including maps, drawings of various Kinden, essays on them and the history of the world, character lists and to top it all lots of free short fiction set in the Apt universe.

As a remainder, the Apt series will start being published in the US next month by Pyr (Amazon has it listed already as in stock despite its March 23 official date) with the first three books coming in successive months, while Salute the Dark is tentatively scheduled for the fall 2010. Lou Anders has kindly provided us with an exclusive first peek at the US cover of Salute the Dark and I include it below for your viewing pleasure. The illustrator of the cover is Jon Sullivan.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Salute the Dark" stands at about 480 pages and it follows a lot of POV's in different locations, including Stenwold in the Collegium and the Commonweal, the Ant Kinden main characters (Balkus, Parops) at Sarn, Salma and his "ragtag army", Thalric, Che, Achaeos, Nero, Taki, Totho, Drephos, Seda and of course Tisamon, Tynissa and Felise. Pretty much everyone important and surviving from the previous volumes appears, but do not get too attached to anybody since this book's content reflects the title and is brutal and dark. The novel is an epic fantasy tale of war, intrigue, technology and magic.

I looked at "Salute the Dark" from two points of view. The obvious one is how does it relate with the rest of the series in regards to storyline, world-building and character development. But then we have to see how does it fare from a stylistic point of view considering the huge cast, multiple threads and the need for smooth narrative shifts.

In a highly anticipated and engrossing novel like this, on my first read I *need* to know what happens, so I immerse myself in the story and its world and unless "narrative walls" appear that slow my enjoyment, I rarely consider the second point above consciously. However on reread(s), all the subtler aspects of the book start registering and "Salute the Dark" impressed me to no end there, since all the little hesitations from "Empire in Black Gold" and to a lesser extent "Dragonfly Falling" disappeared and Mr. Tchaikovsky showed he mastered the art of managing an epic almost to perfection.

Characters and threads get the needed amount of story and no more, so while sometimes I wished there was more of this or that, on the whole the book reads "lean and content-full" despite its length. It is true that Blood of the Mantis showed this smooth transition between POV's too, but that was a much shorter book with three definite and separate threads, while here quite a few stories intertwine and separate or converge.

On the "series" front, Salute the Dark is just awesome because it ties up most previous threads and it expands its universe in several ways, while many characters have their most powerful moments of the series by far. Geographically the expansion is somewhat less than in Blood of the Mantis and more of a rounding of the known universe, but technologically and magic-wise we get a serious escalation as mentioned in the introduction.

The novel's title is apt - so to speak - since "Salute the Dark" is brutal with the characters who are treated mercilessly as befits persons caught in total war, while the atmosphere is tensioned and menacing almost end to end, keeping me to the edge until the final denouements. No more "miraculous by authorial sleight of hand" escapes here, the logic of combat and the weight of numbers show and even the most skilled fighters can only overwhelm so many enemies. Avoiding spoilers and assuming you have read the first three books, go and check my interview with the author and find a lot of hints about the fates of various heroes.

The following excerpt is almost perfect for the book's tone:

"The machines of war are turned on your own people. Your friends are loyal to you, and they shall die for it, or be scarred through, and never to recover what they once were. Blood is born of blood, welling up between the trees, beneath the gold lightning. Ancient evils brought to light, the dead tradition of the life-​drinkers remade, and armies marching under a standard of black and gold and running red. A pillaging of the past for power, so that even the worst excesses of the old times are dug up. The worms of the earth! I see the worms of the earth feasting on all our corpses. Autumn leaves, Stenwold Maker. So many that you shall not see again. They fall and fall, the leaves of autumn, red and green and black and gold.’"

I would not want to spoil some of the most powerful moments of the book but there are so many including personal combat, cavalry charges, mystic foretelling of the future, escape from crucifixions in the nick of time, weapons of mass destruction, land battles, air battles, intrigue and assassinations or tentative of such, but the prize goes to the gladiatorial combats and especially to the climactic one that has all the intensity of the best from Spartacus on...

Salute the Dark fulfills the promise of the Apt series and brings its first part to an excellent conclusion, while starting new threads to be explored next. An A++ based on my three reads of the book so far and vaulting to the top of my 2010 fantasy novels.

Note: For "series completists" books 1-4 can be said to form sort of a complete series so go read them.



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