If you’ve been reading LBR for a bit, you’ll know I’m an avid fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s momentous Shadows of the Apt series. Not only has Tchaikovsky managed to produce an doorstop-length novel bi-annually for the past three years, but the quality of his work has been on the rise nearly since book one. Heirs of the Blade is the seventh novel in the series, following on February’s The Sea Watch, and the third (and assumed final) volume of the series second arc. Much like the two last installments preceding it, Heirs of the Blade dually focuses on the continued exploration of the series’ landscape, and an in-depth look at a few select characters. Once again, Tchaikovsky has managed to take us in a somewhat unexpected direction, though this latest seems to unfortunately lost some of the excitement and drive of its direct predecessors.
Tynisa is running, but she cannot escape the demons of her own mind. Amidst the fragmenting provinces of the Dragonfly Commonwealth her past will at last catch up with her. Her father’s ghost is hunting her down.
At the same time, the Wasp Empress, Seda, is on the move,her eyes on the city of Khanaphes, the fallen jewel of the ancient world. Whilst her soldiers seek only conquest, she sees herself as the heir to all the old powers of history, and has her eyes on a far greater prize.
Seven books in, it becomes difficult to discuss any aspect of a book without simply considering it in the context of the series as a whole. There comes a point - and with the Shadows of the Apt I think this point has long been surpassed - where a novel is almost impossible to consider as anything other than a further chapter of a whole. Tchaikovsky’s decision to divide his series into a number of sub-arcs, the first of which was comprised of books one through four, the second books five through seven and presumably the final arc will be made up of books eight through ten. As the final novel in an arc, Heirs of the Blade feels very different to the Salute the Dark, the fourth novel of the series.
It appears the trend for this second arc is one which sees Tchaikovsky take somewhat of a break from telling the story we really want to know about: the clash between the Wasp Empire and the Lowlands under Collegium. Of course, the war has actually been suspended in the plot of the story, so Tchaikovsky makes use of this time to refine the world of the Shadows of the Apt by visiting new places, introducing all sorts of new Kinden and generally prepping things for what we can only assume will be the final confrontation.
However, Tchaikovsky has also taken the opportunity to use these three books to check in with a few of the main characters which may have been somewhat sidelined in the hectic, intense, large-cast act which were the first four books. This wasn’t exactly true of Che around which The Scarab Path focused, but it certainly is of Stenwold who we reconnected with in The Sea Watch, and now Tynisa in Heirs of the Blade. This seventh novel is an intimate observation of how she is dealing with the consequences of the first Wasp War, of her mistakes, and dealing with her losses.
That the intriguing, feudal and previously unexplored Commonweal happens to be an appropriate place for Tynisa to confront her past is convenient. While following her on a deeply traumatic and emotional journey, we’re also taken to a whole new land, and exposed to the original culture of the Dragonflies which have up to now heavily featured in the books, but are a kinden for which we got comparatively little insight. Tchaikovsky’s choice of setting, therefore, is a wise one - he also proves here that he’s still able to shows us fresh aspects of his world while encompassing the story and characters we are already familiar with.
Where this novel disappoints is in the lack of connections with the sixth book, The Sea Watch. A follow up of Che and her adventures from The Scarab Path is appreciated, but after the very overt build up in The Sea Watch, it’s a bit of a let down to discover that Heirs of the Blade doesn’t continue to ramp up that anticipation. Instead, when you consider the latest three books in the series, they’re almost standalones. At the end of the sixth, I was fairly excited for the widespread, epic action to resurface or at least being to resurface but it seems Tchaikovsky is saving this for the eighth novel. Only the very last chapters of this book make any acknowledgement of the brewing conflict in any tangible terms - thankfully, what is said appears to indicate that the next volume should bring us back to the scope of the first books.
In spite of this small shortcoming, the immersive nature of Tchaikovsky’s storytelling remains as entertaining and as welcomed as ever. Coming back to a world with such an extensive mythology and backstory, I always have the fear that my memory will fail me, but every time the power of Tchaikovsky’s prose and character’s make it a breeze to reintegrate this world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Shadows of the Apt series is simply one of the best epic fantasy series out there. It might not have as high a profile as some other lengthy series, but you should not be deceived by this, if anything its an under-appreciated gem. Heirs of the Blade is out from Tor UK now, and should eventually become available from Pyr in the US. The tentatively entitled eighth book, The Air War, is projected to hit stores next summer.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Adrian Tchaikovsky Website: http://www.shadowsoftheapt.com/
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