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Thursday, August 12, 2010

"The Scarab Path" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Order "The Scarab Path" HERE or HERE (ebook)
Read FBC Review of "Empire in Black and Gold"
Read FBC Review of "Dragonfly Falling"
Read FBC Review of "Blood of the Mantis"
Read FBC Review of "Salute the Dark"
Read FBC Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

INTRODUCTION: There is no secret that in the past two years and a half the Shadows of the Apt has become my favorite ongoing fantasy series for its combination of superb world building, great characters and extreme inventiveness. Salute the Dark ended quite emphatically the first part of the series dealing with the war between the Collegium and the Empire in Black and Gold.

I strongly recommend to go and get those four books and read them before proceeding further here, though I will try to keep the spoilers to the minimum possible. Be warned that even the blurb of The Scarab Path consists of huge spoilers for the ending of the first part.

After reading Salute the Dark and the synopsis of The Scarab Path which had spoilers about the previous book, but little illumination about its content, I was quite intrigued to see where the author will take us next. And as the title hints The Scarab Path goes to Egypt - I mean the ancient Dominion of Khanaphes - deep history, magic, hidden secrets of the world and much more.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: The Scarab Path is a big book. It is divided into four parts and 45 numbered chapters and ends with a glossary of names, places, organizations and things.

There is a nice map that complements the previously known ones by showing the geographical extension of the Apt universe to the Nem desert, Jamail river and the Khanaphes Dominion, while the beautiful cover presented above features Che within the temples of Khanaphes with the obvious analogies with ancient Egypt, hieroglyphs, secrets and all.

After an extended introduction which recaps past events and tells how things have evolved in the year since Salute the Dark, The Scarab Path consists of two main threads, one centered on the ancient Beetle city of Khanaphes and one dealing with their historical enemies, the Scorpion tribes of the Nem desert.

The Scarab Path's main POV's are Cheerwell Maker (Che) and Thalric, though several other characters have important roles in the Khanaphes thread, most notably Accius and Malius from the Ant city state of Vek, Amnon First Soldier of Khanaphes and an old acquaintance from the first four volumes whom I will leave the readers to discover.

There are also several notable characters in the Scorpion tribes of Nem thread, including a half-breed Rekef agent, an Imperial engineer and several leaders of the tribes. The Scarab Path is epic fantasy with magic and deep history that intertwine perfectly with lots of steampunk elements.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Scarab Path is quite a different novel than the first four in many ways. It is very personal and has a lot of magic, though there are still big bloody battles, intrigue, assassination attempts and even a crocodile hunt on the Nile - I mean a "land fish" hunt on the Jamail...

But first and foremost this is Che's novel. Despite her success in Myna, Che has been devastated by loss and now she seems to be literally "haunted" too. Somehow by her mental association with Achaeos and the Darakyon, her Aptness vanished so now she is that very rare person - an Inapt Beetle Kinden.

And to top it all, Tynissa blaming herself for the death of Che's lover and a bit unhinged by her experiences in Capitas has left for places unknown and even Sten's far reaching agent network cannot find her trace. While Sten is used to deal with the Inapt in his household - he raised his ward Tynissa alongside Che after all and now he has Arianna as his young lover - for Che the experience of being one is new and frightening, so she mourns and broods...

Luckily politics intervene - upcoming elections for the Assembly - and one of Sten's rivals capitalizing on the huge interest in all things foreign and exotic after the war, has published a very popular atlas. Sten and his allies have to do something to top it and what better than a real expedition to a strange place, the ancient and seemingly backward city of Khanaphes, far to the east of Solarno and the Exalsee? And Sten has the perfect ambassador/guide to take several unworldly academics all the way there.

Thalric should be on top of the world; facing crucifixion - the Wasp analog - for treason in the main public square of Capitas, he has found himself overnight the "leading man" of the Empire, Regent and husband of the young Empress Seda. Of course almost all is a sham since Seda and her advisers hold tightly the reins of power. The husband part is real enough, but due to Seda's new habits after her dramatic accession to the throne, a night with her is almost as bad as the crucifixion. So Thalric finds that the Empire needs him in the farthest corners he can write himself a mission to.

Unfortunately someone with clout is after Thalric's life - he has way too many enemies, not to count the Empress' ones to be an easy guess whom - so when word comes of the Collegium's new interest in Khanaphes, Thalric believes that an ambassadorship there, far away from the Empire across the Nem and its dangerous Scorpions will be a safe haven.

Though they are the main characters in The Scarab Path there are some notable differences between Che's arc and Thalric's one in the sense that here Stenwold's niece vaults to the center of the cast and takes over. Thalric's doings have always been directed by his forceful personality and even at his lowest ebb - wounded, cast off by the Empire and partly a defector, partly a prisoner in "Dragonfly Falling" - he would take over the page whenever he appeared so his actions in The Scarab Path are a natural continuations, while consolidating his role as one of the most important characters of the series.

However Che has always been even in her mind "the second choice". Not anymore and this transformation handled perfectly by the author was one of the two main things that differentiates The Scarab Path from the other four novels.

The other difference is magic - in the subtle sense of the series since after all the specific Arts of each Kinden are regarded as "natural" - and here we see the long range planning of the author in Che's evolution to Inaptness that allows her to perceive and possibly even use magic, while as a Beetle Kinden being almost singular in the world as such - distinction that offers her "leverage" and could open new vistas.

The Scarab Path has lots of great quotes too: "we sell war", "I am changing hands so often, they should put customs on me" to give some examples just to wet your appetite. All the elements that made the first four novels so good are still here - inventiveness, action, great world building and the novel achieved the tricky thing of combining familiarity with the new in all of its aspects that is a landmark of major leading sff series.

The Scarab Path (A++) starts a new chapter in the Kinden series after Salute the Dark wrapped so well the first part. Building on some of the earlier events and expanding the series in considerable ways - geographically, historically and in potentialities like "transmigration of aptness" - The Scarab Path closes its main threads so it can be read like a standalone within the greater context and of course the ending gives us some hints where the action will move next.

These two 2010 novels: Salute the Dark and The Scarab Path achieved the rare feat of an awesome series novel followed by another awesome one which is both different and familiar at the same time. Go read the series and see why it is so good!


Unknown said...

Hey, I'm doing a book giveaway on my blog and thought you might be interested!

Great Blog!

Jeff C said...

I've been looking forward to your review of this one. I plan to read Salute the Dark VERY soon, but was going to hold off on The Scarab Path. But since you mention it stands alone pretty well, I might have to buy it much sooner. Like that Kindle edition that I feel still has to be an error. Of course I'll still also get the Pyr edition when it is released.

Waterstones claims that book 6 is due in February..wonder if that is true?

Liviu said...

At the end of The Scarab Path I felt the options were wide open and I still had no further idea where the series goes next - except for a little hint at the end and the synopsis of The Sea Watch, so indeed the book stands well on its own within the context of the series of course.

I think that Sea Watch is now in proofing, so February is reasonable, but the author hinted further volumes may be spaced more apart.

Anonymous said...

I gave this series a shot due to the glowing reviews and I'm glad I did! I have enjoyed Shadows of the Apt alot and I'm glad to see that The Scarab Path continues the quality of the series.


Jeff C said...

Liviu: FYI..The Scarab Path (epub) is finally for sale on More expensive the the Amazon version, but at least it is an epub so I can read it on my nook easily.

Liviu said...

Great to know about the epub edition. I have enjoyed this one so much that I had to spend a week immersed in its universe despite lots of other books yelling to be opened. And I still do not really know what the next one will be about which is surprising considering it's book 6 and books 2-4 had a clear main thrust

Anonymous said...

liviu: i dont know if you are familier with manga or anime but i think that the shadows of the apt would be a great series to adapt it to.

it is sad what happened to che's lover though. she's one of my favorite charactors and it will be interesting to see what happens to her in later volumes

shaneo52 said...

Hey Liviu, I've been tempted to pick this series up, seems cooler everytime I take a look...this and the Riyria books.
I seen a pic of book 7, Heirs of the Blade over on Pat's blog. Cool pic, wonder what character that is on the cover.

Are there some real cool warriors in this series, Liviu?

Liviu said...

tons of great of warriors of every kind (from master swords maen and women, to mind-linked armies, to masters of mechanized war, to pure "big dude" fighters - there are some that give a true meaning to "big")

The character with the sword is Tynissa imho

shaneo52 said...

Who's your favorite characters in this series?

I like that UK cover of HotB

Liviu said...

That is a spoiler :) The two main heroes of the Scarab Path

shaneo52 said...

OK, I gotcha. Tried to get this at the library, couldn't even borrow from another til March, year from release date. Browsed it at Borders though, sounds pretty cool.
Thanks Liviu


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