Review: Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt # 1)

Adrian Tchaikovsky: Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt # 1). (Tor Books, 2008)

So back in 2009 I bought three books by Adrian Tchaikovsky because they sounded very interesting … and I thought it was a trilogy. After they arrived, I realized these were the first three books in a series supposed to be 10 books. Finally, I got around to starting on this series – and I’m really impressed. This first book in the series is also apparently Tchaikovsky’s first novel and although the plot line is somewhat familiar from other fantasy series – and also, from some real life circumstances – he has managed to create something new.
This is solely because of the various insect kinden that populate the book. Each kinden has it’s own characteristics, each has their own special abilities. Beetles are solid, robust people – mantis are excellent fighters and killers.
The story in this book is about a small band of unlikely heroes who try to tell their city as well as other cities about the danger from the expanding Wasp Empire. The leader of our band is one Stenwold Maker, a beetle, who years ago has seen what the Empire is capable of. No one however pays any attention to Stenwold’s warning however and suddenly the Wasps are knocking on the door, all charming and diplomatic of course.
And suddenly, death knocks on Stenwold’s window and forces his hand, sending his niece Che, his ward Tynisa and their friends Salma and Totho out as agents. They are however followed and separated and various events occur that forces each of them to grow up and realize more about their potentials and abilities.
This book deals with issues that are very common in our world today. The Wasp Empire reminds me at the same time of Hitler’s Nazi Germany as well as the Empire in Star Wars, and the issues raised because of these are what all occupied – and soon to be occupied – experience. More interesting to me, though, was the issues between the various kinden, how hatred has been grown through centuries, how old old conflict still influence how we see each other, how our beliefs and religions make us look with suspicion on anyone with other ways of thinking.
If you want to look at it in that light, this book is about the conflicts we see in our world, the conflicts between Christians and Muslims, the everyday racism we experience, the unwarranted hatred that sometimes flares up. This book is about all this, but presented in another world – and it works.
The kinden all has their good and bad sides and even the big bad Empire shows it has individuals Wasps who aren’t either Nazi soldiers or storm troopers. This also add more depth to the story that there isn’t one individual kinden who’s just evil.
To me, this was a surprisingly good book. Even though the story is in some ways the same one we’ve read in the Dragonlance Chronicles, in the Wheel of Time series and in countless other novels, the insect kinden really give this a new twist that makes all the difference.

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