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Thursday, February 10, 2011

"The Sea Watch" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Order "The Sea Watch" 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 Review of "The Scarab Path"
Read FBC Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

INTRODUCTION: There is no secret that in the past three years 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, while The Scarab Path, a standalone withing the larger series context, has been my personal favorite to date and I rated it the best fantasy of 2010.

I strongly recommend to go and get those five 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 Sea Watch consists of huge spoilers for the ending of the first part.

After reading The Scarab Path and the synopsis of The Sea Watch which had spoilers about the previous books, 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 Sea Watch goes indeed to the sea, though in the authors' ingenious world building, a large part of it actually takes place in underwater landscapes and it reads like sense of wonder sf on say Mars of yore.

"A shadow is falling over Collegium. Despite the tenuous peace, Stenwold Maker knows that the Empire will return for his city. Even as he tries to prepare for the resurgence of the black and gold, a hidden threat is steadily working against his people. Ships that sail from Collegium's harbour are being attacked, sunk by pirates. Some just go missing ..."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After the superb The Scarab Path, Mr. Tchaikovsky switches characters, setting and gears in The Sea Watch. Starting essentially with the return of the Khanaphes mission and the election for the new speaker which Jordy Drillen, Stennwold ally is favored to win partly due to the success of that mission, partly due to Stenwold's backing, the novel switches soon into high gear when conspirators appear with unclear but ominous plans, while Stenwold finally is compelled to check allegations that someone is targeting Collegium's shipping which has expanded due to the war with the Empire and the corresponding reduction in the traditional land commerce.

The Sea Watch is all Stenwold and Teornis with supporting action from a lot of new characters, most notably fly-kinden Laszlo, a young factor from a pirate crew who wants to move legit and whose boss Tomasso agrees to help Stenwold find out who is attacking Collegium ships, while from the under-the-sea kinden, mercenary Wys and Paladrya whom we first see in the prologue set some years earlier are the most important, though we meet a large cast of unforgettable characters.

And of course the usual Collegium cast like Jordy Drillen, Arianna, the wasp ambassadors and their minions, Marius and Acius, the Vekken returned from Khanaphes and some of their Kes rivals, as well as a few other known characters which I do not want to spoil also appear, though Tynissa is still missing, Stenwold is fuming when he gets Che's letter and the news about her new companion, while Teornis returns to prominence as wheeler and dealer and favorite adoptive son of the Collegium...

The second important aspect of the Sea Watch is the large expansion of its universe. Among many goodies, I will mention:
kinden bonding with and traveling in animals like sea-horses and huge jellyfish or riding octopuses and crabs; seagods, prophecies, dart-cavalry, but also Aptness, submersibles, engines in a no-fire world based on springs and siphons, accretion of materials and more; there are also mysterious kinden like the builders and the savage echinoi, while more familiar ones like the spider analogue, the krakind, and their servants/followers, and the huge crab-like warriors that grace the cover, the onychoi, and their followers, appear too.

The tone of the novel is
back to the expansive non-stop action of the first four volumes, as opposed to the more intimate Scarab Path. While there are some superb personal scenes including a restatement of one of the best and most chilling moments in Salute the Dark, The Sea Watch is first and foremost action oriented, taking the reader on a page-turning ride to its superb finale...

The Sea Watch has a clear beginning and ending - ending that is another for the ages - though despite its completeness, I felt quite sad when it ended since I really wanted more; August and volume 7 "Heirs of the Blade" cannot come soon enough, though to be honest I have no real idea how the author's hint of another partial tie-up as in Salute the Dark will happen since for now I see no clear main direction away from the regular power play of the series universe - Collegium vs Wasps vs Spiders...

I had the highest expectations for The Sea Watch (A++) and it delivered everything I came to expect from the series and consolidating its front-runner status in my fantasy reading. To end this review here is one of the best lines of the book that makes one want Heirs of the Blade asap...

‘There will come a tomorrow, ...., when we shall speak again. Remember that."


Daniel said...

Loved your review. Will definitely buy the book. Is the series changing its publishing format starting with the 7th novel? its seems kinda weird.

Liviu said...

Thank you for the kind words; just saw that Heirs of the Blade is announced as tpb in the UK; I had no idea about that

Anonymous said...

i'd guess heir of the blade is going to be about tynissa

Liviu said...

Definitely that but what else?


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