Monday, September 26, 2011

Book review: "Dragonfly Falling" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Huh, three weeks since my last post! I was so busy that I even didn't notice. I this case it wasn't that I was lazy, but I was so busy that I only finished one book, which I finished yesterday. Compared to four books and two anime in august, it is unsubstantial, but I hope the situation will improve. I notice also that lately I lost my interest in anime... The probable reason is that there are no new anime that would pique my interest. There are several that I have great expectations for in near future (like the prequel and sequel to "Bakemonogatari"!!), but for now, nothing. Now, let's get back to the book...

"Dragonfly Falling" is the second book in "Shadows of the Apt" fantasy series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I've been hearing good things about the series for some time, so it had a high position on my wish-list. After reading the first book, "Empire in Black and Gold", I was a bit (but only a bit) disappointed. The book was good: world-building and setting was great (after some adapting), characters very good, but the plot was only OK. The story was somewhat episodic and it lacked the epic feeling I expected. We had a band of (potential) heroes forced in adventure and doing some cool action stuff, but it all was minor in the great scheme of things. I am very happy to say to this book "has" epic in abundance! And if according to this review at things only get really going after fourth books, I have much to hope!

I had much less adaption problem with this book. Tchaikovsky's custom of giving races in his books insect's name and referring to them with these names (Ants, Flies, Wasps...), combined with the fact that they have some characteristics of insects, made me thinking of them as real insects instead of people, which doesn't tend to help in making a connection to characters (does this make me an insect-racist, jokingly). Since I already had experience with his style, it was much easier to dive into the book. And book starts very good. An Emperor only slight interest in invasion of Lowlands (which was the main subject and biggest worry of our heroes in previous book) and his investment in some dark-magic plot gives this series a completely new and wider perspective, and I liked it! Combine this to some "historical" references to old Empires, great magical deeds and add it to all-out war on several fronts, the result is a very exciting and complex book.

At the beginning, our characters are set in few groups on several missions. Salma and Totho were separated from rest at the end of last book, and their search for Salma's potential love-interest will lead them to the invaded Ant-city of Tark and famous Fly-artist Nero, old friend and compatriot of spymaster Stenwold Maker. Stenwold is on the other hand back to the great city of Collegium, where he will continue to start an opposition against the soon invasion of Lowland by Wasp Empire, who will try to stop him in his efforts. His niece Cheerwell Maker (Che for friends) will be sent with her lover Achaeon, Moth of Tharn, to Sarn, a curiously cosmopolitan Ant-city where their mission will be to search for allies and prepare them for Wasps. And Tisamon and Tynisa, the unlikely Mantis father and Spider daughter, will embark on journey to reclaim Tynisa's racial right and also to find allies. On the other side of spectrum we have the enemies. Major Tharlic, who we know from the first book, is back and still on his mission of making small troubles in Lowlands as preparation for Wasps. Their Emperor Alvdan has found an unexpected prize: a Mosquito sorcerer, member of race that was believed to be only mythical. And he is promising him some unbelievable gifts, but for a dark prize. We also have Wasp generals, mercenaries of all races, avengers from Dragonfly Commonweal, cursed hold of Darakyon, stirring of great Spiderlands... The best thing about it is that plot advances very much through the book and it ends in totally unexpected resolutions!

Although we have clearly defined heroes who present the good-side, it doesn't mean that enemies are necessarily evil. Actually, Tchaikovsky put effort to describe them as only humans, with flaws, but not all evil. Sure, we have several characters that are not exactly right in the head, but most of them had their own agenda and reasons for joining either side. Characterization is very good in this book, with much description of internal reasoning even of minor characters. It all helps in making a believable and human characters, which is ironic when you consider have strange they are (Ants with their hive-mind, Inapt with their inability to understand even basic technology). Author did some great work with his characters.

When we are talking about characters, as in my post about first book, I must mention Totho. He is one of the best characters in the book, with serious problems, very interesting plot and much growth. Why does he have to have such childish name as Totho, which disables me to regard him as he deserves?!?! Every time I am reminded of Toto, Dorothy's dog from "The Wizard of Oz".

I would like to mention the great combination of magic and technology in this book. Technology is still prevailing in quantity, but magic is also making steady advance. Although not my pair of sleeves in general, technology is similar to steam-punk, so this is additional bait for readers.

In the end, "Dragonfly Falling" was a very pleasing surprise to me, raising the ladder set by "Empire in Black and Gold" for several times. It retained the great setting from first book, did even better job with characters and gave one really exciting and epic plot. I really liked this book and I am looking forward to next sequels.

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