I cannot even begin to explain how much I enjoy the Shadows of the Apt books. Their level of originality and their sheer epic-ness makes for some of the best fantasy entertainment out there. And I would even say that Salute the Dark is the best embodiment of that feeling in the series. Adrian Tchaikovsky continues to grow into becoming one of the best writers of epic fantasy right now. A little biographic data: Salute the Dark was published just last week (5th of February) and is the fourth installment in the series.

Blurb: The vampiric sorcerer Uctebri has at last got his hands on the Shadow Box and can finally begin his dark ritual – a ritual that the Wasp-kinden Emperor believes will grant him immortality – but Uctebri has his own plans both for the Emperor and the Empire. The massed Wasp armies are on the march, and the spymaster Stenwold must see which of his allies will stand now that the war has finally arrived. This time the Empire will not stop until a black and gold flag waves over Stenwold’s own home city of Collegium. Tisamon the Weaponsmaster is faced with a terrible choice: a path that could lead him to abandon his friends and his daughter, to face degradation and loss, but that might possibly bring him before the Wasp Emperor with a blade in his hand – but is he being driven by Mantis-kinden honor, or manipulated by something more sinister?

There are some really great aspects in this book. For one thing you almost always get only the action which is nice. In Salute the Dark, you get to follow one character go to another country and back in the space of less than half the book, without having to read the boring traveling bits, since there are basically none written in, unless something significant happens during them. This is a skill that Tchaikovsky has honed with the past books and that really shines in this book. It lets us also follow a lot more characters in a shorter book which is just what I want in this case. Obviously this means that if you are a fan of very long complex stories that focus big parts of the writing on slow scenes involving just a few characters than you’ll be a disappointed. That’s not to say that there are no touching character moments, because there are (remarkably many in this book, actually), but they will be a lot shorter, and in my opinion, more to the point. It’s a refreshing kind of writing.

The story is still as intricate as in the other books and as fast pace and exciting.
Once again we are treated to some very epic battles, rising to a total of five happening at the same time, each happening to different characters. Tisamon, as you may have seen from the blurb, plays probably a much bigger part in Salute the Dark than I any of the previous three books. Clearly, his time spent in the fight pits is inspired by roman gladiators, even up to how the Emperor declares who wins and dies, but Tisamon is an interesting enough (and is he ever conflicted in this book…) to pull it off. It’s something that’s been done before but they never had insect-human crosses fighting each other. We get once more the chance to see a new place in the world of the Lowlands and it sure is different.

It’s important to note that quite a bit of the book is preparing for the various battles that will ensue so until the very end there is a general sense of negativity among our main characters. By this point they’ve all been through a lot so they’re starting to wonder how they are going to get out of the war and if things will ever go back to how they were. Very similar sort of sentiment as Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings, to cite a famous example. Throughout Salute the Dark, Tchaikovsky pushes them even further and brings them and the story to a surprising conclusion that surpassed even my predictions.

I think I enjoyed this one more than Blood of the Mantis (book three) and it sure is one f my top reads of 2010 (yes, I know we’re only in February but still…). If you’ve read the other Shadows of the Apt then and you’re in the UK than check out this one. If you haven’t read the others, and if you haven’t I’m once more wondering why you would read this review this far, then go pick up Empire in Black and Gold, the first book in the series. Also, The Scarab Path (for which I posted the cover art here), the fifth book is coming out this July. Apparently publishing plan, for the moment, is to publish a Shadows of the Apt every 6 months or so until all ten (yes that is a lot of books) are published.

Summarizing Info:
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Violence: yes quite a bit and with one of the main characters in fighting pits + five battles, there’s probably even more than in the other books
Sex/Language: Nothing significant enough for me to remember

Adrian Tchaikovsky's website: http://www.shadowsoftheapt.com

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