Six books down the line and Tchaikovsky is still delivering. While managing an incredible output of novels, he has continued to make his Shadows of the Apt series one of the very best fantasy series on the market. The Sea Watch continues this with flourish. As the second novel of the second internal ark of the series (complicated, I know - that tends to happen after five books) it ramps up the action and takes things, once again, in directions I, as a reader, could never have foreseen. From a Shadows of the Apt volume, though, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
A shadow is falling over Collegium.
Despite the tenuous peace, Stenwold Maker knows that the Empire will return for his city. Even as he tries to prepare for the resurgence of the black and gold, a hidden threat is steadily working against his people. Ships that sail from Collegium’s harbor are being attacked, sunk by pirates. Some just go missing...
Lulled by the spread of lies and false promises, Stenwold’s allies are falling away from him. He faces betrayal on every side, and the Empire is just waiting for the first sign of weakness to strike. But the Empire is no the only power that has its eyes on Collegium. And even the Wasp-kinden may not be powerful enough to stave off the forces massing in the darkness and turning hungry eyes towards Stenwold’s city.
It’s difficult, six books in, not to mention this series’ progression up to now. There’s no denying that there have been some (relative) ups and downs along the way. Book three, for me, marks a low point in the series while the last two, especially The Scarab Path were high points, while the other two sit comfortably in the middle. Where The Sea Watch fits into this scheme is hard to say. It’s very much the equal of the latest two, but in many ways it read very differently from those.
The Scarab Path was very much Che’s story, and in much the same way, The Sea Watch is Stenwold’s. It was a pleasure to see the focus be brought back to the old spymaster who had been somewhat neglected in the last few volumes of the series in favor of his acolytes. Like its direct predecessor - and this seems to be the drive behind the second inner ‘arc’ of the series - it is a book that is very adventure-like and explorative of the world. Slowly but surely, Tchaikovsky is peeling back the layers so that the reader can have a sense of how vast, or how much vaster, this world is.
It’s a testament to Tchaikovsky’s world building skills that like any great master of epic fantasy he is able to continuously add to his world’s geography, history and mythology to keep the content fresh without overwhelming the reader or indulging too much in needless detail. In this sense, The Sea Watch is a very good book. It’s impossible to say in what way it is with out venturing too deeply in spoiler territory, but let’s just say that the boundaries of the ‘known’ world are expanded. Quite a bit.
Where The Sea Watch might possess a slight caveat, though, is in its character development. As I mentioned, it’s great that we are back to spending time with Stenwold, but there is certain disconnect with him that wasn’t there before or isn’t present when the novels are concerned with a character like Che. Stenwold has become too much the War Master and the slightly too often lucky savior-of-the-day to be realistic. Admittedly, Tchaikovsky does an admirable job of having him wrestle with these issues himself. Much of Stenwold’s struggle is about whether he chooses to definitely assume his position as a war-leader or whether he wishes to refrain and try to be the peaceful beetle once again. Part of the disconnect, I think, comes from the fact that these are not new dilemmas for Stenwold and so the reader does not feel as engaged as he goes through them again. This is something I hope changes in future installments.
But I don’t mean to get bogged down in the negatives. That aside, The Sea Watch remains a very strong and a very good novel. If Tchaikovsky lacks a bit in his characterization in this one, he on the other hand pushes his mastery of plot to new heights. The overarching plot-lines continue to envelop the story and things are slowly gearing up to come together. Being the middle novel of a trilogy of sorts, The Sea Watch begins to build towards whats looks to be as massive and superb, if a bit more mysterious, a semi-conclusion as that seen in Salute the Dark. Also, despite being the longest in the series yet, this sixth volume ends in a bit of a rushed manner, and though this can be seen as bad thing, I choose to sit it as a means for the story to transition even better into the next chapter of the series.
The Sea Watch will not disappoint any of the avid readers of the previous books in the Shadows of the Apt series. I continue to encourage any who have not given Tchaikovsky’s books a try to do so. Six books might look like a lot to catch up, but they read surprisingly fast, and it’s a series well worth it. I, for one, continue to be entranced by the kinden and their troubles, adventures and heroics and very much look forward to Heirs of the Blade, seventh entry in the series which the Tchaikovsky-machine looks to be churning out for August 2011.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Adrian Tchaikovsky Website: http://www.shadowsoftheapt.com/
Buy The Sea Watch: