By Adrian Tchaikovsky
I’ll come clean from the beginning here by saying that I love this series and not just because it’s great story-telling, but because it does so many things really well. On the surface it’s an epic story of war that ranges across continents, told through the eyes of a small band of people from very different races, creeds and colours all on different paths though acting with a common goal, to defeat a tyrant enemy sweeping across the world and set on subjugation of everything in its way. At it’s heart, however, it’s many smaller stories, of relationships between friends, lovers, fathers, daughters, uncles and cousins and it’s these smaller, more intimate and more personal tales, that draw you in and keep you there.
But if that’s not enough then it’s also packed to the gunnels with political intrigue, epic battles – in the air and on land – with swords and crossbows and newly invented machines, and there’s magic and alchemy, engineering and artifice and it all takes place against a backdrop that switches from dark industrial cities to swamps and wetlands, from whitewashed coastal merchant towns to the tented encampments of the vast armies, from taverns to castles to universities and everywhere in between. In fact for fans of epic fantasy it would be pretty damned difficult not to find lots to like here!
If you want the story so far then check out my reviews of the first two books here and here and if you want to hear Mr Tchaikovsky’s own take on it then we have an interview with him here. Blood Of The Mantis finds Stenwold Maker’s niece, Che sailing to the free City of Solarnos with the artist Nero to quietly rally the city against the impending Wasp assault. Stenwold himself travels to the Ant City of Sarn desperately seeking an allegiance between the other Kinden in the hope that their combined strength will defeat the Wasp Empire’s next big push to take the Lowlands, and with it the greatest prize, the city of Collegium. The other kinden however know of the captured ‘snapbow’, the new weapon that the Wasps are wielding and against which there is no defence and they all want their hands on it before they will commit resources. Stenwold also has to contend with feuds and political in-fighting between kinden who cannot put the greater good ahead of their own benefit and all the while assassins plot to disrupt any prospect of a treaty. Meanwhile Moth-kinden Archos has tracked the mysterious Shadow Box to the marshland town of Jerez and has taken a small band of fighters including Mantis Weaponsmaster Tisamon and his half-Spider daughter Tynisa along with captured Wasp Major Thalric and a Wasp mercenary Gaved to capture it before it can fall into the hands of the Wasp Emperor and his Mosquito slave Uctebri or any of the myriad other bidders who would like to claim it.
This is very definitely a ‘middle book’ in what is looking to be an epic series. There’s a lot less going on, the cast of characters (on the page at least) is smaller and we’re dealing with a couple of very specific developments in the overall story which you just know are setting up events that will pay off much later but, while the scope (and page length!) of this book is much smaller than the previous two, it is nevertheless another terrific read. While the complex politics of the kinden world drives the story forward more than in previous volumes, there is still action to be had (there is a war on after all) and when it comes, it is as tense, violent and gripping as we’ve come to expect, switching seamlessly between the misty, damp and often oppressive Jerez to the noisy, warm and sunny Solarnos to the strangely silent Sarn and, impressively, the atmosphere changes perceptibly while you read. I wish I knew how he did it!
If you’re a fantasy fan and haven’t read any of these books yet then I would urge you to treat yourself to all three so that you’re ready for the next instalment when it comes in February, you won’t be disappointed. You’d do well, too, to visit the official website and check out the bonus material as well.