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Friday, August 9, 2013

"War Master's Gate" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Order "War Master's Gate" HERE
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 Review of "The Sea Watch"
Read FBC Review of "Heirs of the Blade"
Read FBC Review of "The Air War"
Read FBC Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

INTRODUCTION: "War Master's Gate" is the ninth book out of ten of the ambitious Shadows of the Apt series. Despite being the middle book of the final trilogy of the series and ending on a cliffhanger in one of the main threads and at clear TBC points in others, the novel manages to surprise and be fresh  as well as offer a superb reading experience making it the present leader in my top sff of the  year. 

The book contains the main novel War Master's Gate which ends with a few epilogue pages noting where the important characters in the "war" part of the book are at the moment - as mentioned the "magic" part of the book ends on a cliffhanger - and the usual glossary of characters, places etc for its first 660 pages, but as an added bonus it also has a 50 page story, "Heart of the Green", that adds depth to the main new character of the "magic" part, the War Master of the title - and yes despite having Stenwold Maker, the Collegium War Master on the cover and he plays an important role for sure, the title mainly refers to this other new personage.

As  noted in the previous reviews of the series linked above the structure of the series is as follows:
- a tetralogy with a clear main focus and where the several story-lines that start in Empire in Black and Gold, develop in Dragonfly Falling and Blood of The Mantis, only to converge at the climax of  Salute the Dark. These four books follow a large cast of characters which of course renews itself as the storyline moves on and they are all fast paced yarns in the usual epic vein with battles, intrigue and the fate of the known world at stake. They are best seen as volumes 1-4 of one single huge novel.

- three relatively self contained novels, The Scarab Path, The Sea Watch and Heirs of the Blade, which follow only a few story-lines each from the larger tapestry so only some of the main characters of the series appear, though again new characters and settings are introduced. The Sea Watch was a bit too sfnal for the general tone of the series, while being the one novel so far whose main storyline still remains tangential in the larger scheme of things, though lots of things happen, quite a few main characters die and the main strategic realignment of the series occurs.  

On the other hand, The Scarab Path and Heirs of the Blade hit it out the park and provided the two of the best three novels of the series to date and some of the best fantasy around, each in a package that was remarkably self-contained considering their place as "bridge novels" as well as 5th and 7th novels in a 10 book series.

- a trilogy with a dual focus, one that has been clear for a while and formed the larger part of The Air War and one that revealed itself in War Master's Gate and will surely be the focus of the last series volume, The Seal of the Worm as per the ending here.

Note that in what follows there will be the inevitable spoilers for the series to date, though I will try to keep them at a minimum.

ANALYSIS: How can one keep a 9th volume of a series that has been running pretty much chronologically and covering a span of only a few years, fresh, new and quite interesting? After all there is all this past weight of all the 8 earlier volumes, while what came before imposes a lot of the constraints of the upcoming flow of the events considering the structure of a huge tapestry woven by the author. 

War Master's Gate manages this remarkable feat by the continual rolling of main characters as now General Tynan of the Wasp 2nd Army advancing inexorably (again) on the Collegium, the mixed "Antspider" Straessa of the Coldstone Company, the Wasp pilot Captain Bergild, Eujen Leadswell, the former student peace agitator, now leader of the Student Company raised to fight the last resort street-to-street battles if the unthinkable happens and the 2nd Army breaks into the City, and Milus, the Sarnesh "tactician" aka commander of the army who finally maybe the one Ant Kinden innovative enough to defeat the Empire, all relatively new or in some cases formerly with little page time, take main stage in addition to the regular surviving main cast. And of course this is only a slice of the vast ensemble who includes many more interesting characters who have their importance and page time.

Then there is again expansion of the universe - Apt/technology and Inapt/magic, as well as traveling to the deep past and the dark times of the ultimate war of the Inapt times against the all devouring "Worm" Kinden and their slaves, war that in the usual fantasy tradition took place 1000 years ago and is quite relevant today...

As mentioned in the introduction War Master's Gate runs on two parallel tracks:

The Apt/Technology/Modern action which is almost all war and follows mainly the 2nd Wasp Army against the Collegium and to a lesser extent the 8th Army against Sarn and its allies. This thread is on a very large canvas, dark and brutal on occasion and ends at very clear to be continued points.

The Inapt/Magic/Past influencing and threatening Life as everyone knows it as the once defeated but not destroyed Evil may rise again etc. This thread is more personal and has some stuff that veers a little closely to the usual cliches, but it benefits hugely from the main characters who are imho the most fascinating of the universe - the triangle Che, Seda, Thalric - though in an ironical take on genre cliche, here the roles invert and the two women (Che and Seda - the "lover" and the "wife" as after all Thalric is still the Imperial Consort as I do not think the Apt universe has Empresses divorcing their consorts alive - have agency as they are quite powerful magicians while the man is the object as he is just an ordinary Apt mortal) , Tynissa, Ostrec/Esmail, the War Master of the title at least in his past glimpses and quite a few others I leave you to discover. This thread ends on quite the cliffhanger after one ending moment that verged on "over the top" but came out quite well and reminded me of the similar in spirit ending of book 7. 

While not really needing to be said, the author's prose has become impeccably smooth and polished and the novel is a page turner that I couldn't put down and rushed through to see where all goes, while later rereading it at leisure to appreciate all the finer points I missed.

Overall War Master's Gate is another triumph for Adrian Tchaikovsky which installed itself at the top of my sff reads for the year at least for now, while it also became one of my three major favorites volumes alongside "The Scarab Path" and  "Heirs of the Blade" especially that here the Apt/Inapt threads finally start combining in an awesome whole. 

Sadly, after a journey started 5 years ago in 2008, The Shadows of the Apt will be ending soon with volume ten, The Seal of the Worm delivered and scheduled for publication in 2014 and I hope it will manage that very hard feat of concluding an awesome series in a powerful way.


Bob/Sally said...

9 books is a bit daunting to dive into, but Shadows of the Apt is one series I've been curious about for a long time. Knowing that the first 4 comprise a story of their own makes it seem a bit more immediately accessible.

Liviu said...

yes that's true and also note that after the 3rd book (which is the shortest so essentially the 1st and the 2nd to a lesser extent are the ones that show the author's inexperience in a few ways, most notably in managing transitions between the multiple pov's), the series becomes so addictive that when you open a book, it is very hard to put it down, while the writing hits its stride and it is very smooth

the combination of sfnality (Apt) and magic (Inapt) and the combination of sense of wonder and very strong characters, together with the very epic nature the series acquire fast makes it one of the best genre offerings around, though it is not traditional fantasy, nor sf or science fantasy

Anonymous said...

Great review!! Looking forward to this book.

Mr. Tchaikovsky hinted that he will doing another series after Shadows of the Apt. Do you know anything about this new series?

Liviu said...

Thank you for the comment!

Right now the author is penning a serial called Spiderlight for the magazine Aethernet; I subscribed to the magazine as it has a bunch of great serials and up to the 5th and current installment, Spiderlight is a sort of ironic and occasionally over the top take on classical quest fantasy, which is quite fun overall

I understand that also he has a standalone gun-magic fantasy tbp next and then he is working on a new universe series though i am not sure any details have been revealed

the author page is the best for updates

Unknown said...

I interviewed Adrian recently and he said this:
"After that, I should be bringing out a stand-alone fantasy called Guns of the Dawn, which is best described as Jane Austen meets Bernard Cornwell with a dash of Ursula le Guin – think ‘Eliza Bennett gets drafted’ and you’ll see where it’s going. After that, there is a new series coming out, and I’m about 2/3 of the way through the first book of it right now."

Very excited for Guns of the Dawn.

Liviu said...

great, thanks for the details; I remembered them vaguely but this is much better!

Angelo said...

Liviu, alll your praise for this series in these last years left me curious to try it. I haven't started yet because I generally don't like bugs. Even on RPGs I don't like to fight spiders and such. Not because I'm afraid, but because I find them boring and unappealing.
Considering this, would you still recommend the series to me? Maybe I've got a wrong idea about the series, due to all those insectoid references.

Liviu said...

The characters in the series are people with their associated kinden-bug traits called Art (eg wasp-kinden have a natural sting in the palm and can fly etc), but they generally can interbreed; they are also generally of 2 kinds, Apt (can understand and use machines, have no feel for magic) and Inapt (can feel magic and some can use it but cannot use technology)

The series overall combines technology (which evolves from a roughly 19th century steampunkish stuff in the beginning to 20th century warplanes, tanks and WMD now) and magic 9which again is dormant more or less in the beginning and then it awakens)

Angelo said...

Thanks, Liviu. I'll give it a try after my current reading. The reviews are nice and the author is prolific, so I only needed a nudge. :)


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