Book review of Adrian Tchaokovsky’s Empire in Black and Gold
Adrian Tchaikovsky has been tearing up the fantasy genre recently. Pyr is releasing the novels in the Shadows of the Apt series at a blistering pace: Empire in Black and Gold is the first and was released in early 2010. The Scarab Path, book 5 (yes, that’s right, 5) in the series is already available on Amazon.com. The cover for Empire in Black and Gold reminds me of a comic book, and the characters in the novel actually support the theme that this book would easily make the translation to graphic novel or feature film. I had read a few reviews prior to picking up Empire in Black and Gold, but I didn’t quite know what to expect.
I was wary after about the first fifty pages of Empire in Black and Gold, as while I was starting to like the characters, and the action was surely top notch, I was slightly annoyed by the play on words that is the mark of authors who are just starting off their careers. Here’s an example:
“Will you find some calm?” he said, starting to lose his own.
This type of prose drives me nuts, as it strikes me as an author attempting to be tricky with words, and falling flat on his face. It also interrupts the flow of the page, because you just have to stop and shake your head. However, this is a minor flaw, and one that does not resurface much as the novel progressed, and I was thoroughly entertained as I made my way through Empire in Black and Gold.
The front runner of Empire in Black and Gold’s qualities is undeniably its fast-paced action scenes. Tchaikovsky has a wonderful knack for writing thrilling action sequences, that move quickly, but pause in all the right moments just enough to give you a taste of description. It is this talent that reminded me of some of the engrossing detail sequences of Terry Goodkind in Wizard’s First Rule.
Tchaikovsky has created some wonderful characters in Empire in Black and Gold. The characters are all based on some type of insect, from wasp to beetle to dragonfly, spider and mantis, among many others. There is a fantastic butterfly-kinden character named “Grief in Chains”, the idea for which I found highly inventive, for the short periods that she appears in the novel. Where the characterization is lacking in Empire in Black and Gold is in the description of the characters. While these are characters you connect with and feel for, I would have really enjoyed a bit more description of the different insect-kinden types. Instead, we’re just told they are some type of insect, and its up to the reader to guess to what degree that influences their physical attributes.
While Empire in Black and Gold is definitely an action novel first, there are undertones of horror that appear infrequently, which work nicely when paired with an action fantasy. Some of the description contained in the horror scenes is downright dripping with fear:
Who asks? in a voice that was like a dry chorus of a hundred voices. He could not tell whether it came from the trees themselves or from between them, but the sound of it froze him. A voice like dry leaves and the dead husks of things, and the passage of five hundred years.
Where Empire in Black and Gold shines is in Tchaikovsky’s ability to take characters that are at first glance foreign and unfamiliar and make them real. Take this conversation between a wasp and a dragonfly-kinden:
“Well, next time you shed my kinden’s blood, think on this: we are but men, no less nor more than other men, and we strive and feel joy and fail as men have always done. We live in the darkness that is the birthright of us all, that of hurt and ignorance, only sometimes…sometimes there comes the sun.”
Empire in Black and Gold is a fantastic first novel in a promising new series. I’m definitely looking forward to finding time to consume the second novel in the series.
You can purchase Empire in Black and Gold over at Amazon.com.