Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Empire In Black And Gold

I’ll be honest; I struggled with the beginning of this book. I even tried to pass it off to other reviewers. I felt that I wasn’t jiving with the whole premise. I kept reading because I recognized quality writing and hoped that in itself would endear me to the story. Well, it did. I was so glad I didn’t set this one down. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s characters and world grew on me and I finished the last ¾ of the book in half the time it took me to read the first ¼.

Empire in Black and Gold, at its heart, is very much an epic fantasy. You have a band of heroes from various backgrounds coming together on a quest to stop the conquest of a brutal warrior race, hell-bent on destroying everything in their path. There are sword fights, magic, and exotic beauties. To these classic tropes, Tchaikovsky adds steam engines, flying machines, universities, and the sciences. It’s the weird mix of epic fantasy and more modern elements that gave me such a hard time at the start.

The world Tchaikovsky creates is complex. All the myriad races that inhabit his world are based on a kindred insect. For example: Mantis Kinden are a proud and lean fighting race. They have spurs of bone that protrude from their arms. They are genetically predisposed to blood lust, which gives them special abilities. Beetle Kinden are smart and good with their hands. They can sometimes even fly and see in the dark. These abilities are not necessarily magic, but gained through genetic heritage and a form of meditation. The line between “natural abilities achieved via meditation” and “magic” is confusing and not exactly clear. That may have been the author’s intention, since many of this world’s inhabitants do not acknowledge magic at all. Sprouting wings and firing balls of energy are perfectly acceptable, but scrying and mind reading are just not within the realm of their logic. All these concepts are thrown at the reader right at the start, so it can be difficult at first to get into the flow of the novel. But once you get past the initial learning curve of Tchaikovsky’s world, Empire in Black and Gold turns out to be a wonderfully unique and exciting place to be.

The characters are as diverse as the races they belong to. They each carry with them the baggage of their heritage, but as the story progresses they each grow and change based on the experiences they encounter. I found myself frustrated by the beetle’s lack of imagination, and frightened by the mantis’ lust for violence. These challenges grow the characters in emotional and surprisingly physical ways.

If you are growing a little tired of the medieval sword-and-sorcery style fantasy world, you should certainly give Empire in Black and Gold a read. It’s a unique piece, and the beginning of an ongoing series. I found it enjoyable and believe that most any fan of epic fantasy will find something to like here. The story is continued in Dragonfly Falling, which is due to release in the States this April.

You can also learn more about Tchaikovsky's books at the Fantasyliterature Tchaikovsky's page

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