Reasons for reading: I've had it for ages and it seemed to me that I really need to read it already
On a world populated by human-insect and human-arachnid creatures, each type of kinden has special powers and aptitudes. The otherwise average Stenwold Maker, a Beetle kinden, is caught up in times full of violence and impending war with the Wasps. He takes it upon himself to create a small cadre of resistance fighters before it is too late. Unfortunately, he keeps being ignored by the people in power - but he still tries to do his best to prepare for the onslaught he anticipates, even if it means sending his beloved apprentices into danger.
The beginning of The Empire in Black and Gold awoke a strong feeling of predictability that lingered throughout the book. I liked the idea of insect-like races and the variety of their attributes, but the plot that the reader follows in the opening chapters – a group of apprentices, one of whom is clumsy and seemingly untalented, are sent on a quest by their master – is hardly something new.
Unfortunately, it doesn't grow any less predictable. Che, the clumsy apprentice, seems to forget her clumsiness as soon as the adventure starts; despite being described as a bad fighter, she is never shown to be a burden to the others – even more, she takes a part, however small, in fighting scenes. Throughout the book, her abilities blossom without any real explanation or reason, and she becomes a full-fledged heroic protagonist …. but I found myself secretly hoping that, for once, her path will not be so very smooth.
Other characters are pretty archetypal as well. Stenwold is the wise mentor who regrets having to send his beloved apprentices into danger, Tynisia is an elegant swordsman of incredible beauty and cunning, Totho is a lowborn, but incredibly talented artificer … I would be hard-pressed to find a character that doesn't immediately fall under some category of clichés.
The curious thing is that despite everything I've just mentioned, I enjoyed reading The Empire in Black and Gold. The plot and the characters' behavior might be predictable, but they're far from boring; their adventures are gripping (if not fast-paced), made even more so by multiple POVs which exchange at the exactly right pace – not often enough to become annoying, not slow enough to get boring as it so often happens. The only thing that bothered me was that chapters frequently ended in cliffhangers; I'm not against those, but I don't like to see them overused as I prefer it when the tension is interwoven with the plot and not created artificially with cliffhangers, especially when the events transpiring are nothing much and cliffhangers are only there to give the reader the false impression that something exciting is going on.
Nevertheless, The Empire in Black and Gold was a nice enough book. Though archetypal (or maybe because of it?), the characters were likeable enough and the relations between them interesting. The images from Stenwold's past also added a a certain flavour that is so often missing in the more generic epic fantasy novels. Shadows of the Apt series is far from ASOIAF, but it's a more than adequate novel to read while we're waiting for A Dance With Dragons*, even more so because it seems that Tchaikovsky has no problem with productivity (7 of the 9 books in Shadows of the Apt series are already published, with Heirs of the Blade on the way). Recommended – just don't expect anything overly creative.
*not much longer now, I hope ... :)
Sory for the lack of reviews in the last month and a half. February (like June and September) means exams, but every time I find myself hoping that I'll still manage to update the blog regularly. Yeah, right.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011