Aug 7, 2010

Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt, Book 2) - Adrian Tchaikovsky

I was a bit slow to start reading the second book of Adrian Tckaikovsky's series, as I have had way too many experiences with sequels of promising debuts turning out worse than expected. What's more, second parts of big series are often prone to dragging and keeping the plot in the same place where Book 1 left it. I need not have worried though, as Dragonfly Falling surpasses Empire in Black and Gold virtually in every aspect.

War has finally come to the Lowlands, as the vast armies of the Wasp Empire are marching on the Ant city-states of Tark and Sarn, while the intrigues of Major Thalric of the Imperial Rekef have seen that the Ants of Vek are preparing to attack their hated enemy - the scholars' city of Collegium - center of Lowlands enlightenment and the heart of the post-Revolution world.

The half-breed artificer Totho and the Dragonfly prince Salma get caught in the siege of Tark that will see both of them changed forever. The Beetle-kinden spy-master Stenwold sends his niece Che and her Moth lover Acheos in Sarn in hopes of both calling upon Collegium's alliy city and making contact with the agents of the ancient Moth holds in preparation for the Wasps' invasion. At the same time the Mantis-kinden Weaponmaster Tisamon and his half-breed daughter Tynisa travel to the Mantis hold of Felyal to try and acquire the help of the great Mantis warriors. Meanwhile in the intrigue-ridden Empire's capital of Capitas the Emperor is approached by an ancient sorcerer of a kinden long thought extinct, with a promise too tempting to refuse. And as schemes are sent in motion and armies are deployed, a lone Dragonfly noblewoman is hunting for the Wasp Thalric to avenge a terrible crime.

Dragonfly Falling centers around the Empire's first push into the Lowlands and has no distinct beginning or end. At the same time, there is significant plot-development and a lot of characters end up in a place drastically different than the one they started in. Especially Totho and Thalric see a lot of change, although the latter has considerably less "screen time" than in the first book, which I consider a loss as the Wasp agent was my favorite character in Empire in Black and Gold. The element of magic from the Age of Lore is more powerful here, and promises to get ever more important in further installments. The steampunk side is also on the rise, as newer and more powerful engines of war are developed in the service of conquest as well as defense.

What I particularly liked about the book was the way it focuses on different kinden. In the first part we were given a distinct view of the Beetles and to a lesser extent the Moths. Beetles' artifice is not extremely interesting as a quality though, and Moths' appeal lies in their mystery. In Dragonfly Falling the center-stage is reserved for the Ants, and those are truly amazing. With their shared mind and unwavering discipline, Ant-kinden are extremely fascinating and Tchaikovsky even gives us a few Ant PoVs to truly experience what it is to be a part of one consciousness. The book also offers a short glance at the splendor and machinations of Spider-kinden Aristoi from the Spiderlands, and especially in the clash between an Aristos and a Wasp general the multitude of ways in which their cunning and web-spinning are manifested are a joy to read.

Still, the quantity of battles gets a little tiring at a certain point and Dragonfly Falling could easily have been around fifty or sixty pages shorter without losing anything. The constant shifting between places gets a bit annoying too, but to Tchaikovsky's credit, he rarely makes you wait long to see how your particular favorite story-line progresses.

His style has improved as well, and the book reads a lot more smoothly than the previous one. Possibly due to the point that the plot has reached, there are no slow places at all, and events just pile one after another. Tchaikovsky's habit of switching PoVs in the middle of a paragraph is still present though, and I really hope he gets rid of that, since it's really aggravating to read a conversation from the point of view of one side, and suddenly realize you're now looking through the eyes of the opposite one, even though it's almost the same sentence. Dialogues themselves also suffer a little in comparison to Empire in Black and Gold, as moments of true realism and heartfelt connection (as those between Che and Thalric in the first book) are noticeably absent.

However, even with those small problems, Dragonfly Falling is still a great read, and a solid development both in terms of plot and writing. I can only hope that Tchaikovsky will maintain the quality in the next installments, because if that happens, Shadows of the Apt is setting to be one of the bar-setters in epic fantasy. And now, on to Blood of the Mantis!


No comments:

Post a Comment