Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book review: "The Sea Watch" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I've been reading "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky for quite some time; I now finished 6th book. The series started very good, with a curious mix of fantasy and steam-punk, taking place in interesting setting. And what's even better, the series kept improving with each book. It wasn't the best or favorite series for me, lacking empathy and emotional impact arising from characters, but I was looking forward to reading "The Sea Watch". I have to admit that I was surprised how good this book was!

Tchaikovsky has chosen a curious pattern for his books. One would be set locally, giving feeling of a single mission/quest, and then the next one would encompass things of different scale, explaining the effects of previous book on global level and expanding on it. Series started bounded in one place (Lowlands), but later expanded the world quite much. What I found interesting was the way it showed the impact of events in Lowlands slowly spreading around and affecting nations back and forth. Also, it is interesting to follow development of Collegium politics and changes in the society through longer period. Even though events took place in maybe three years, it feels much longer.

So, following tradition of even books, "The Sea Watch" is another "global" book. Last book, "The Scarab Path", followed Che on what was supposed to be a diplomatic and research mission to far-away Khanaphes, from which she never came back to Collegium. Here we follow mainly Stenwold Maker, her uncle. Stenwold did got his parts of action, especially in "Salute the Dark", but I never seen him as one of main characters - more as a driving force behind them, gathering and directing them. But this book is about him and told mostly from his perspective. After the war with the Wasp Empire, Stenwold included himself more in the political live of Collegium and leaving his more active role as "spymaster" to become a diplomat. His current affairs include establishing diplomatic relationship with the Vekken (one of their enemies), backing his political ally Jodry Drillen in elections and calming various minor problems in the city. After he gets news of his niece leaving Khanaphes in strange circumstances in company of his greatest enemy, he feels devastated and responsible. But he will have to put his personal affair to side after same force starts attacking and robbing Collegium's ships. It will turn out that Wasps aren't the only people poised on Collegium...

The book has a very nice start and Tchaikovsky really developed Collegium society and politics in details - it looks I am fan of even books. I'll be blunt and just say out that this book introduces a new race, the sea-kinden. This is not a spoiler because they have been sideways-introduced before (in "Blood of the Mantis"), there are mentioned at first few pages, and of course, they are shown on the front-cover, coming out of the water quite looking quite sinister. So, a reader will know that they will show sea-kinden, but particular details of it will be quite surprising. Not giving out too much information, but there will be a big surprise and turn in book when they finally do show. I really enjoyed the political maneuvering, sleight-of-hand and cloak-and-dagger stuff - this book is read like some kind of an thriller set in fantasy setting.

Although I am not a fan of maritime settings and especially not of pirates, this book was good in this part. Fly-kinden pirates are done pretty well - criminals with sense of honor. When sea-kinded come forth, we get to see some new part of the setting and I must say I was impressed. Tchaikovsky was really able to convey the sense of strangeness to readers. The Pelagists were the most memorable thing for me, especially Lyess.

As I said, this book is pretty much about Stenwold, but there are others. We get to see much new characters, but we will also see some of the old-ones leave us. Stenwold is shown as a really capable guy, which wasn't show in previous books, not even in "Salute the Dark". It is funny how all other Beatles think that Stenwold is some action hero with blood on his hands (which he actually is, when you think about it), while he sees himself as old and week, a burden to the rest. But several times in the book you see him from some third character for what he really is: a hard statesman and leader, ready to make and do the difficult decisions - but also unaware of that about himself. Other characters are all good, but I must mention Teornis. We have known him for four books now, but this is the first time we have been in his head. And as with sea-kinden, with Teornis Tchaikovsky was really successful in capturing the strangeness of his races. Particularly, I mean about Spider's duality - to really like and admire your enemy.

The books in series vary much in length - this one is around 700 pages. I can't pinpoint any flaws in the book, but we still lack real connection to characters. But Tchaikovsky is getting better at this and I hope next book will stay good as this one. One thing just came to my mind - I don't think that Tchaikovsy ever discussed religion of the races in his books, except in "The Scarab Path", and that was only locally.

So, to conclude, "The Sea Watch" was the best book in series so far and I believe all fans would agree with me. As for the series itself, "Shadows of the Apt" is growing to be one really good series, best suitable for those who like a good setting and have a patience to wait for the action to really take place.

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