Adrian Tchaikovsky – Empire In Black And Gold

Once again it is time to catch up on my reviews, as I prefer the reading to the reviewing, so a couple of reviews will be following each other the coming days. First one up is Empire In Black And Gold (2008) by Adrian Tchaikovsky, the first book of the Shadows Of The Apt series. It can be considered an epic steampunk fantasy, as it contains imaginary technology which is not constricted by analog limitations of Earthly fashion. Most prominent are the flying machines and the use of weaponry.

The world created by Tchaikovsky contains human races (in the book kinden) which possess certain insect-like traits in a wide range of unique abilities. It is this original concept which makes the story stand out as it provides Tchaikovsky a deep well to create a multitude of interesting races and their respective cultures. A second division between the races is by those who are Apt and Inapt, which simply means those capable of understanding technology and those who don’t. This inability is somewhat odd, but it does put limitations on certain characters which again gives the story a unique feel.

Tchaikovksy quickly introduces the main characters in the story using varying viewpoints. Basically he simply picks those needed to tell the story from different perspectives to help the reader understanding the contrasts between the different races and how they view each other. However, he does slip sometimes as I noticed a few times that the point-of-view suddenly changed between paragraphs, although this would usually not be too obvious as he could be using the third person perspective as well. Even so, to me it felt a bit sloppy.

There is ample time wasted on the introduction as the plot quickly moves into high gear while not moving too fast. We visit different places to present the different parties involved in the story so the reader will have no lack of understanding how this world is working. What I did notice, later on, was that these visits are rather short. We only get a superficial view of the main characteristic of the place as we never stay long enough to get attached.

The plot itself is fairly basic in representing two opposing forces which will be clashing and of which the development is unclear. Tchaikovsky makes it move in various directions and puts several mini-arcs within the main story arc, giving the reader more to enjoy than just a straightforward story.

The characters themselves form a wide range bunch and obviously comprise of many races to provide plenty of variety and frictions, although those remain rather friendly. There is no character that stands out. They are likable enough but I did not feel a real attachment to any of them. There is some character development, but only a few of the characters go through a change, while those of others remains limited.

Empire In Black And Gold was a fun and original read with a solid and fast story with several nice twists but nowhere going extreme. As only a small part of the world has yet been explored it makes the reader more interested on what there is more. It has some complexity but it doesn’t cover much mysteries as it follows a plot that has a clear direction. Certainly recommended for any fantasy reader who likes to discover original worlds.

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