Empire in Black (Shadows of the Apt 1)

By Adrian Tchaikovsky
Empire in Black (Shadows of the Apt 1)

Started reading: 15th January 2011
Finished reading: 9th February 2011

Review

Rating: 8

In case you might not have noticed, I am a bit of a Science Fiction and Fantasy fan. (I grew up during the Star Wars rage, what can I say?)

But though I am infatuated with the genre, there is one particular sub-type of Fantasy that I’ve had a hard time with: that know as “High Fantasy.”

Which is a bit odd, frankly; since High Fantasy is what the genre is best well known for. It’s here that you will find stories of elves, dwarves, dragons, and knights. It’s also where strong willed princesses contest with milksop kings and sorcerers manipulate and lurk behind the scenes.

That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy a good high fantasy novel. I just prefer that it be every once in a while (with more while than once). High fantasy is just not my favorite thing. (Actually, I tend to think that most of is derivative garbage. But no need to get into name calling.)

But even though it may frustrate me, I also respect that High Fantasy is what birthed the realms of “Magical Realism” and “Steam-punk Fantasy”, two sub-genres that I do enjoy. For this reason, it’s refreshing to find a piece of High Fantasy that not only feel fresh, but breathes a bit of new life into the notion of magic lands.

I’ve found an excellent specimen in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Shadows of the Apt” series. It’s creative, and unique, and wonderful. In some ways, it’s even restored a sort of child-like sense of wonder and appreciation for other examples of High Fantasy. But maybe that’s because in Shadows, Tchaikovsky is trying to take the genre to new places.

Specifically, he invests in an interesting new twist on the idea of peoples and powers. Rather than having the traditional “nature” magic versus “black” magic tripe that fills other works, he patterns his tribes after different types of insects and crawly things.

Okay, I will grant you that with such a premise, the potential for a REALLY stupid, unbelievable story is definitely there. (Not just there, but essentially guaranteed.)

But Tchaikovsky actually goes somewhere with it.

Certainly the story arc in the first book is a bit pedestrian (big scary empire threatens the world), but there are moments of lucidity and wonderful prose. There are also glimpses of humanity and surprising depth with themes of racism, classicism, and fears of the other. He also makes a very strong case for why we should pay attention to the world around us and engage with it.

Since picking up the novel, I was thoroughly entertained. So much so, I’ve already downloaded and begun the next two novels in the series.

Highly recommended.