Monday, September 30, 2013

Book review: "The Air War" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Last week I finished another book in "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky.Again I must say, this series keeps getting better and better...

Following its usual cycle, which I mentioned in my review of "Heirs of the Blade", "The Air War" is a larger-scope book, as expected from even-numbered books. And this one really has a big scope: an all-out invasion of Lowlands and environs by the Wasp Empire! We see that all the preparations in previous books has come to fore and it is again time for war. Two armies are set for the Collegium, from two different directions. But this time it is also another kind of war: the air war, the war of technology and machines... But at the same time, the world that has been focused on advance and science for the last centuries, the Apt, is on the brink of reversal. The Wasp Empress Seda targets another throne: the Queen of old magic, and to reach her goal she won't hesitate to wake an old darkness...

"The Air War"  doesn't just feel like a large and long book (like its predecessor), it really is. To fully enjoy the book, you should be fairly familiar with the setting. So if you haven't had a reread, now would be fine time to have one. The book has a very military setting - Tchaikovsky really make a good tension of preparation for war, with logistics, numerous characters and jumping around the world to show how Wasp Empire affects everything and everyone. The book was superb from the beginning and I just couldn't stop reading. There really is no point to getting deeper into details of plot - it is what you could expect from Tchaikovsky's previous works: war, espionage, command chain, old vs. new, etc.

There are quite a few new characters introduced here, and they don't feel at all forced. They successfully freshen up the cast. The book doesn't focus on Stenwold, even though it is in essence his book, but more on little characters. Presenting both sides of the conflict, Tchaikovsky made a great ambiguity - who to cheer for? Seda, Stenwold, Laslo, Totho, those Fly-bombers,...??? But it is more complicated than just two sides; when you add Rekef, other secret intelligence, and other involved parties, you get a pretty mess of morality. There was a scene that with a big moral question in the book (the murder of that Fly) - will Collegium become like Wasps if they defend themselves successfully or will they manage to retain their ethics?

When the series started, it always had just enough magic in it to be properly called fantasy. But it usually focused more on technology, thus belonging more to steam-punk. So I was surprised when this series became so explicit with magic. And as Tchaikovsky was inventive with his technology, like torsion engines, compressed-air guns and so on, so original he is with his magic. And I think he has even bigger surprises for us in later books. On the other hand, the technology gets a large upgrade. He was obviously inspired by World War I air-battles.

There is a great and intense big battle in the end of the book. It is simultaneously displayed from many different POVs with fast changes, which makes it very exciting and intense. The book ends in a cliff-hanger - not a big one, but certainly nothing is resolved yet.

With "The Air War", Tchaikovsky had reached a level of quality that I haven't expected from this series when I first started with it. He mixes an original setting with a set of quality characters, all set in an interesting and intense plot. Again, a recommendation to all fans of his previous books!

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