Steampunk sword-and-sorcery with insect-like humans

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt, #1)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky

First book in a series off 10 novels. It feels very much like epic fantasy, but it has many steampunk elements. Probably something to be expected from Tchaikovsky. We seem to move from a city state that feels very much like antique Greece to a very Dickensian city in the grasp of an industrial revolution to an enemy that I can‘t quite put my finger on yet. Persia? The Ottoman Empire? The build-up to WWII, if just anybody had listened? On the way we take a detour through Lord of the Rings territory. There seems to be a bit of everything.

People appear insect-like. There are ants, beetles, people with wings… Human-insect hybrids? The bad guys are wasp-like, organized and aggressive. And there are other „kinden“ around. Some are more mystical and dwell in the old times of sword-and-sorcery, others are Apt and have a knack for the mechanical. One wonders how this evolution came to pass.

In the first chapter we meed Stenwold, embroiled in a battle. He returns home and warns of the encroaching threat that nobody wants to hear about. So he makes his own plans. A mixed group of characters and „kinden“ are introduced and led along a plot that increases in tension. Eventually the characterizations are deepened, background is added and relationships develop. Nicely done. The enemy is made tangible as well by introducing a presumably bad guy with more than one dimension. There are various trials and tribulations for our main characters, that all converge in a climactic fight. 

Unfortunately there was another 200 pages after that and I really struggled to keep my momentum going. Another one of those needlessly overlong epic fantasies. I was pretty much done after the first 400 to 450 pages. I couldn‘t wait to finish the book—not because I found it so exciting, but because I needed it to be over. Saving grace: Tchaikovsky writes well, always has some unusual ideas and doesn‘t care about fitting into a specific genre.

The next book, Dragonfly Falling, is another 670 pages of dense and small print. I read the also pretty lengthy text on the back flap and then proceeded to read the blurbs of the other eight novels. Phew, I don‘t have the patience for that much drawn out epic fantasy. I tossed Dragonfly off my virtual TBR pile and put the paperback in my give-away basket. I doubt that I will ever struggle through all 10 books of this series.

Next: I will continue with The Immortality Thief (The Kystrom Chronicles, #1) by Taran Hunt and then return to Adrian Tchaikovsky with And Put Away Childish Things.


11 thoughts on “Steampunk sword-and-sorcery with insect-like humans

    1. Well, Children of Time isn‘t it either then, probably. Because half of the MCs are uplifted spiders. If it‘s the insect thing in general that bother you.


      1. Ick, yup. That’s a no, also. Spiders are worse than a lot of other insects. Though even with insects I like I’m not sure what I’d think about “uplifted” versions… I like bees, but I’m still not sure about bee-people. Spider-people are RIGHT OUT.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don‘t get why so many people have issues with spiders or insects, I really don‘t. Ok, if a huge tarantula walked through my living room, that would give me pause as well. But the jumping spiders, that are the uplifted species in Children of Time, are actually really cool and fascinating. And cute. I‘m actually happy when they visit my balcony. The spiders that try to move in with me get a trip over my balcony railing though.


      3. I mind insects and spiders less in real life than in media. I mean… I don’t LIKE some of them, but I’m not actively scared of them. Spiders get escorted outside by Mr. Wyrm, and some of them are actually quite cute. But I still have issues reading about them or watching them in movies. I think that Tolkien’s spiders are part of the reason…

        Liked by 1 person

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