Tuesday, 7 September 2010

‘Salute the Dark’ – Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor UK)


Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series has been a very interesting ride, so far, albeit not just for the reasons that have ultimately kept me reading. What I’ve found is that this series has the ability to confound my expectations and not just in a good way... Way back in 2008, ‘Empire in Black and Gold’ had ‘enough going for it to make it one of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read this year.’ I was all fired up for ‘Dragonfly Falling’ only to find that ‘by having to concentrate on so many characters, bits of story seemed to go missing that I really wanted to know more about.’ I was still up for more ‘Shadows of the Apt’ but, based on what I’d just read, I wasn’t hoping for much other than more of the same. How wrong could I have been? ‘Blood of the Mantis’ ended up being ‘very much a return to form’ and a book that had me looking forward to finally getting round to reading ‘Salute the Dark’.
What I have on my hands here then is a series that delights in following up great instalments with books that don’t quite cut it, for me anyway. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on how things are going to pan out quality wise, Tchaikovsky has to go and prove me wrong...
So, as much as I was looking forward to rounding off this particular arc of the series I was a little bit wary about what I was letting myself in for. After all, ‘Blood of the Mantis’ was excellent so that didn’t bode well for ‘Salute the Dark’. Turns out I needn’t have worried. Tchaikovsky pulled another fast one on me and rounded the series off in some style...

Endgames are beginning to play out all over the Lowlands. The Wasp Empire has lost patience at a number of aborted attempts to expand its borders. Nothing less than total victory will satisfy the Emperor and his staff now; armies are on the march (supported by devastating new weaponry) and they will not stop until the city of Collegium is finally in their grasp. The Beetle spymaster Stenwold Maker and a disparate group of allies are all that stand in their way and their plan to spark off rebellion in Wasp occupied cities may be too little too late.
However, the most dangerous threat of all is only now ready to emerge from the shadows he has created for himself. The Mosquito Kinden Uctebri has gained mastery over the Shadow Box and is about to use it in a ritual that will gain Uctebri far more than the immortality that he has promised the Wasp Emperor...

I couldn’t put ‘Salute the Dark’ down until I’d finished reading it, that’s the bottom line. When I finally did finish it I realised that I’d been holding my breath for the last couple of pages and had to remember to breathe again. Tchaikovsky rounds off this arc, of his series, in fine style and promises great things for the books to come. I think he will deliver on this promise as well if ‘Salute the Dark’ is anything to go by.

That’s not to say that the book is without its problems though although one of these was down to my not getting round to reading it sooner. Yes, ‘Salute the Dark’ is one of those books where you really need to have read the rest of the series fairly recently if you’re going to get the best out it. It took me a fair old while to get the hang of who everyone was (and what they were all up to). It’s interesting to note that ‘The Scarab Path’ has a brief summary of the preceding four books while ‘Salute the Dark’ doesn’t and is perhaps the book that needs it the most... Oh well, I’ll know better next time!

‘Salute the Dark’ also falls foul of the sheer weight of story that it has to carry over the finish line. The pacing can suffer at times as Tchaikovsky alternates between taking his time, over things that perhaps don’t need dwelling on, and rushing through at times when a little more detail would have made for a better reading experience. When you get to the end though, and see how everything ties together, you can’t help but admire how Tchaikovsky has cajoled and gently led everyone into just the right position for the final events to play out. It’s all told so well that you don’t even notice it happening until it’s all happened.

Tchaikovsky has been writing in the Lowlands for a few books now, enough time for all the necessary introductions (people and places) to have been made and for him to be able to get on with the important business of the story at hand. Despite those occasional lapses in pacing, the end result is more often than not a story that soars with human emotion and the thrill of armies clashing one against the other. Tchaikovsky displays a masterful touch when describing these particular situations and you get a really visceral idea of the ebb and flow of battle. It’s also always interesting to see the developments being made to warfare in this world and Tchaikovsky doesn’t let us down here. One of the themes of the series that has stood out for me has been the progression from magic to technology and this is none more evident than on the battlefield. It makes you wonder what Tchaikovsky’s artificers are going to come up with next and I will be around to find out, no question about it.

We’ve had a while now to get to know our main characters and Tchaikovsky has built them all up just enough for it to be a real wrench not only to see them put through various ordeals but also to bid the survivors farewell at the end of the book. War doesn’t care if you’re in love or you finally realise how to sort your life out; if you’re stood in the way of an arrow or sting then there’s only ever going to be one outcome. Not only does Tchaikovsky get this but he’s not afraid to put his characters through the wringer in order to get this message across to the reader. ‘Salute the Dark’ is a blood drenched and emotional read because of this approach and all credit to Tchaikovsky for going down this route.
It’s a measure of his success with this approach that I found myself desperate to know how things turned out for each character, I even wanted to know what finally happened to Cheerwell Maker and visitors to the blog will know how much I can’t stand her normally!

‘Salute the Dark’ is a triumphant conclusion to this initial storyline and one that has ensured that I will now be around for the duration of the series. It doesn’t get a lot better than this.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

3 comments:

Sarah said...

I have yet to read any bad review for this book. I have only read the first two books in the series. I really need to get moving!

Eoin Purcell said...

Smashing and fair review. Loved the book myself and Scarab Path is sitting on my bedside locker!
Eoin

Anonymous said...

graeme: dont know if you're familier with manga and anime but i think that the shadows of the apt series would be perfect to adapt it to