Adrian Tchaikovsky – The Sea Watch

As I wrote in my review of The Scarab Path, Adrian Tchaikovsky changed his style and approach of his storytelling after completing the first four books of his epic steampunk fantasy Shadows Of The Apt series. The fifth book could be seen as a standalone story, albeit with some minor new developments for the main characters that would influence the greater story, although the impact would be considered minor. The plot of the story told could have been set in different environments. A similar thing can be said about The Sea Watch (2011), the sixth installment of the series.

In The Sea Watch Tchaikovsky yet again expands the setting of his world while staying partially on homeground. In the previous novel the focus lied on a select group of the main characters and in this novel we do so on another group. With this the story has a greater focus and it gives Tchaikovsky more space to develop his characters. Even so, the characters do not rise above a more than superficial description. In that sense he does a poorer job than in The Scarab Path.

In this novel Tchaikovsky expands his range of insectile human races (kinden) to those of the sea. He adds so many that there is little time to give them sufficient attention besides some characteristic descriptions. The ideas and possibilities are very interesting and provide so much material he could have written a separate novel or series just focusing on this sea-environment. In this case, however, he had to divide it between events on land and sea where the land-element is dominant and moving the story. As such I would say Tchaikovsky overshot himself. I also see it as a bit problematic that he needs to expand the world to provide plot development. It would almost seem that he doesn’t have enough ideas to use the existing (and already large enough) world for the story, which, I would think, provide the opportunity to go into more detail and background and spend more time on character development.

As in The Scarab Path the events concerning the standalone story provide a way to make certain developments in the greater story. Still, these remain somewhat minor in impact. Certain dangling threads do get resolved this time as it had been unclear to me where it would fit in. The resolutions were luckily original, unlike the main plot which twists were more of a way to show all the new ideas and kinden, which in the end were not so much different from regular cultures.

So in the end my conclusions about this series hasn’t changed much. The original concepts and the combination with steampunk elements lift it above mainstream, but plot, complexity and depth remain pretty average. Still it remains a good read. The prose is fine, the original concepts keep me plenty of happy and the plot is not that predictable as to provide some surprises. Nevertheless I give The Sea Watch my recommendation as it is still a good novel any fantasy fan will enjoy.

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