Adrian Tchaikovsky brings us the fifth volume in his excellent Shadows of the Apt series. The Scarab Path continues the story of the world of the Lowlands and begins a new three-book arc in the overall series. I didn’t think it possible after Salute the Dark, the previous novel, but Tchaikovsky outdone himself once more and by a large margin. This fifth book is a more mature and personal offering that diverges in direction slightly (in a good way) from its predecessors. Things just keep getting better and better in this series...
The war with the Wasp Empire has ended in a bitter stalemate, and Collegium has nothing to show for it but wounded veterans. Cheerwell Maker finds herself crippled in ways no doctor can mend, haunted by ghosts of the past that she cannot appease and seeking meaning in a city that no longer feels like home.
The Empress Seda is regaining control over those imperial cities that refused to bow the knee to her, but she draws her power from something more sinister than mere armies and war machines. Only her consort, the former spymaster Thalric, knows the truth, and now the assassins are coming and he finds his life and his loyalties under threat once again.
Out beyond the desert of he Nem, the ancient city of Khanaphes awaits them both, with a terrible secret entombed beneath its stones.
This series is gaining and gaining weight. At this point, the halfway mark, it has already managed to make itself pretty memorable. The first two books were good, the third sagged a bit but the fourth picked things back up in earnest, enough so that I was left wondering where this fifth book would go. The answer: much, much further. The Scarab Path picks up not too long after the events of Salute the Dark and things aren’t going too well for Che on the emotional plain.
That’s important since this book is very much Che’s book and so we follow her as she sets out on an expedition to the distant and mythical beetle-city of Khanaphes in search of others that can help understand the changes she has undergone. What she finds though is a city with more than a few quirks, dangers and secrets. Or, you could say, the perfect place for another thrilling and mysterious volume of the Shadows of the Apt.Then comes along a not-so-satisfied Thalric, who’s taken any opportunity to escape his life in the Wasp capital. In this case it means a diplomatic mission to a land south of the Empire, the Dominion of Khanaphes.
The Scarab Path takes has a noticeably different direction than the four books that came before it. For one, the story incorporates much magic and magical elements than when it centered on the Apt and their wondrous gearpunk inventions. There is some of that though with the Iron Glove Cartel and their vast array of artifice weapons. Then there is also the atmosphere of the book that is different. The difficulties Che has been through emotionally reflects on the tone of the book, making it more personal and somewhat darker. Thalric injects his usual intensity to the narrative with his multiple misadventures and his knack for getting into some difficult, not to say dangerous, situations.
The extended length of The Scarab Path, being almost 700 pages long - comparable to Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling - allows for a story that does not feel quite a rushed as in Blood of the Mantis and Salute the Dark, and has room to develop fully. As such Tchaikovsky also has the space to expand the mythology of the Shadows of the Apt world in terms of the meaning of Aptness, its origin, some deep history and even geographically. Not to mention all the epic goodness we are treated to in the later half of the novel.
What is also great with The Scarab Path is that for the first time in the Shadows of the Apt series I didn’t have any idea of where we were going to go. Previously things had all been about the war with the Wasp Empire so it was clear that we would be continuing on that subject. But The Scarab Path being the start of a new arc, it was great to discover where we were going and what we would be doing there, all the while keeping a level of familiarity with the workings of the world and being accompanied by characters we know and love. But was is even better is that going further, The Scarab Path does exactly what Salute the Dark did - apart from the synopsis, I have very little idea of where the sixth book will go, which, of course, makes it all the more exciting.
With The Scarab Path Tchaikovsky proves himself once more, giving us another fine example of what good epic fantasy should be. Readers of the previous Shadows of the Apt books will not be disappointed and new readers should seriously consider getting a start on this fantastic series. The Scarab Path will be followed next year by The Sea Watch which according to latest news in the proofing stage. Now news yet on when The Scarab Path will hit American shelves, but Salute the Dark should be out now from Pyr.
My Rating: 5 out 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Adrian Tchaikovsky's Website: http://www.shadowsoftheapt.com/
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