Friday, March 23, 2012

Book review: "Salute the Dark" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Last week I finished another book in Adrian Tchaikovsky's "Shadows of the Apt" series that mashes up fantasy with steampunk, "Salute the Dark". This book was supposed to finish the first of the mini-cycles in series. Well, it does, and does it in very good and surprising way.

Minor spoilers about previous books ahead.

There are several plots here, some on large scope, and some on private, single people way. After the recovery of Shadowbox, a powerful magical item, and after all those feinting and minor skirmishes, thing have finally come to apex. Wasp Empire has finally decided to show its full muscles and large armies are coming to Lowlands to decide its fate and those of its allies. After finally succeeding in committing all those bickering city-states to common cause, Stenwold Maker doesn't have any more options, except going north to Commonweal and asking will they join the fight against Wasps. On the other side of the world, around Exalsee, Taki, Nero and Teornis will each try to do their best in rising Spiderlands against Wasp invaders. And in the center of the Lowland, Sarn and Collegium are preparing for sieges. Balkus and Parops are leading their own contingent allied with Sarn, while Salma is leading his rag-tag army in largely successful guerrilla-offensive against closing Wasp Army. Acheos has come back home, trying to find and provide help in Tharn. Che has decided to rouse Myna once again, this time with help of their new and untrustworthy ally, Major Tharlic. A bit further in the Empirse, city of Szar has already rebelled, but Totho and his mentor Drephos are coming to crush them. Tisamon, drawn to madness by pressure of his "betrayals" has decided to throw his life away, while Tynisa is trying to save him. But all their efforts will be to naught, if Uctebry the Moquito Magician succeeds in his plan and opens the Box of Shadows.

I don't know for further books, but these four books set a pattern: 1st and 3rd were slower and narrower, only introducing new places and people, while 2nd and 4th made some big developments and action. Since 5th is a start of a new cycle, I presume it will again be only introductory. But let's get back to this book. Even though it is quite short, 450 pages, it feels larger. Often important and epic events are described only off-hand and shortly, which contributed to the pace, but this worked quite well in my opinion.

One of the main topics of Tchaikovsky's books so far was the difference between new and old, usually presented through war and fighting. Inapt races are described as anachronistic, but at the same time romantic, where their way of fighting is "clean" and "honorable". The new Apt races are only interested in efficiency, so they usually got defeated badly. And now we have the new Wasp weapons of mass destruction, which are so efficient that they even freak out other Wasps.

Although I had some inkling about this being the last book of this part of the series, I was surprised how concluding and definitive this ending was. Tchaikovsky closed all plot-lines started in previous books and if he decided not to continue the series, nobody would be able to complain anything about unresolved story. Even bigger surprises were the fates of main character. So far, Tchaikovsky didn't look like a writer ready to terminate characters in such definitive way.

The only large flaw of the series is still characters that I am unable to connect to. Even after four books, I can't say I really care about their problems, pains and fates. Pity, because with this, "Shadows of the Apt" would be one of best ongoing series. Also, a touch of humor would also improve things.

Nevertheless, with "Salute the Dark" Tchaikovsy decently continued qualities he introduced in first three books: original blend of fantasy and steampunk, solid and fast story, with good characters. If you liked prequels, you will definitely love this one. And let's hope that next one, "Scarab Path" will be even better.

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