Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book review: "Blood of the Mantis" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Last weekend I finished "Blood of the Mantis", third book "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Although not the best fantasy series I have read, this is one with great potential and very unique, and I will happily continue to follow it. An additional point for Tchaikovsky is that he publishes two books per year, so you don't have to wait much.

First book in series, "Empire in Black and Gold" was a solid, although slightly unambitious introduction to the setting and characters, a typical quest story. Second book "The Dragonfly Falling" was much different: it greatly expanded the setting, added more character and introduced a larger story to the series. Now, the third book, "Blood of the Mantis" is again a return to the structure of the first book - a quest story.

We have two main plot-lines, parallel in time but also in other things. Events take place shortly after the end of TDF. One group of our heroes is sent on a mission to lake of Exalsee: Che and Nero. They are sent there to warn citizens of few cities around Exalsee to the danger of the Wasp Empire, who set them as another goal. There they will find some new allies and new dangers and enemies. On completely another part of the world, group consisting of Tisamon, Tynisa, Thalric, Achaeos and two more is also on a quest of a lake. In this case, the lake is Lake Limnia and the quest is to retrieve the Shadow Box, stolen by Spider spy and mercenary named Scylla. As expected, they won't be the only pretenders to ownership of the Box, but what they will discovery there will be surprising too all, including the readers.

Parallelism of this two stories is a smart detail: both on the lake, both fighting against Wasp, discovery more about world. This is especially apparent when Che and Achaeos share their dream and both lakes got mixed in it. This book share much with first one, but it is similar to the second one on one thing: setting expansion. I must say I was quite surprised when I saw the map expanded much on both north and south. Judging by what little I know about sequels, I think (and hope) this will not be the last expansion. While most of the book is focused on these two groups of characters, we get glimpses from other ones: Stenwold trying to from alliance of Lowland cities against the coming threat of Wasps; Seda joining with Uctebri against her brother Alvdan, the Wasp Emperor; Alvdan and Wasp Empire's incoming internal troubles; Totho and his change; and others.

Main characters stay the same, with maybe a couple additions, but we meet much new supporting characters. While they are all written well, with depth, multi-dimensional, having doubts, feeling uncertain, they are at the same time the weakest part of the series. I don't know is it only me, but I am unable to make any emphatic link with them. I read about them, find them interesting and exciting, but I don't care about them. Which is a shame because they are really good characters. I especially like those in Wasp Empire: Seda, Alvdan and Gjegevey. Judging from where the plot is taking them, I think we will see much more of them.

Tchaikovsky's writing also got much better than in first book. It is much more expressing, but not too boring with long and unnecessary description. Polish language and Croatian (my native) have much in common, and I have noticed that he uses some familiar phrases that do not belong to English but probably to Polish. I wonder does he write his manuscripts in English or in Polish?

This series most original trait is the combination of steam-punk and fantasy, and how these two correlate and don't correlate. In these last two books we have been introduced to some characters that are exception of their races: Drephos, the Moth scientist; and new character Tegrec, an Inapt Wasp. Maybe there will be some with both traits? Also, I like how Tchaikovsky is building up his setting and its history: the dread invasion of underground Slugs; the rebellion of Assassin-bugs, and so on. I hope we will learn more about them, as in this book we learned more about Mosquitos.

It is good that Tchaikovsky looked up to the best (Erikson and Marin): there are no good or evil characters. Wasps have been pictured as bad guys for most of other races, but in truth they are not more bad that others, just more ambitious and more successful with it.

BotM was the shortest book in series so far, with some 430 pages. It was not too short neither too long, but I like a bit longer books, so I hope that sequels will be longer.

There is not much that can be objected to "Blood of the Mantis", but there is many things that it can be praised for: unique and detailed setting, interesting character and smartly written plot. With every new book the series so far have gotten better, so "Shadows of the Apt" and "Blood of the Mantis" have my recommendation.

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