The Air War, Shadows of the Apt book 8, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Shadows of the Apt has been one of my favourite series for a number of years now, even if you consider that it’s rather more technologically advanced that the fantasy I like to read. The unique insect-kinden and their gripping story were enough to get me sucked in when starting Empire in Black and Gold, and once that happened I was hooked even when it began to include snapbows and orthopters and all the other advances the artificers brought us. The Air War is the eighth instalment in the series and while I’ve never ranked them in order of enjoyment, I’d say this would be in the lower half of the list if I did.
The first half just seemed to drag on without the usual excitement I’ve come to associate with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s writing. Whole chapters seemed filled with text and so little dialogue to break it up. Even with another two books scheduled to complete the series, I struggled my way through the first half of The Air War wondering to myself if this was the end of Stenwold Maker’s tale as far as I’m concerned.
Fortunately for me, things did pick up after I persevered through those opening chapters, and the second half of the book was back close to the sort of level I expect from this series. Where early battles in the air seemed slow and almost forced, the latter ones took on new life and zipped back and forth across the pages. Where new characters had come in and added nothing, suddenly I cared about them and appreciated their freshness compared to those I’d been reading about for much of the previous seven titles.
One key joy to picking up any Shadows of the Apt novel is the introduction of new insect kinden. We’ve previously seen the moths, butterflies and sea-kinden to name but a few, and these additions can really freshen up a multi-title series. With The Air War, we have assassin-bugs and fireflies coming to the fore. I admit, I didn’t fully appreciate the former, but I did like the addition of the little firefly and the opportunity that new kinden presents. I expect to see more of both of these characters, and perhaps some more of their kinden, in the last two books to come.
Of those we’ve already met, our main characters are Taki, the fly aviatrix who fittingly takes centre stage in a book called The Air War; Laszlo, the pirate-turned-spy and of course, Stenwold Maker, the beetle-kinden spymaster and Collegium War Master. Although some personal favourites are missing (Thalric, Che, Tynisa), Taki and Laszlo, plus the addition of Straessa “the antspider” and her group provide a likeable cast on the side of the Collegium forces. One of the things Tchaikovsky does very well with these books is show both sides of the story, and it’s great to get inside the heads (literally in some cases) of some of the wasp-kinden antagonists. There’s plenty of focus on the wasp empress Seda and her increasingly mystical ways, and the major players of both the wasp army and its aviation corps also feature heavily. The unbiased way this is done is refreshing and allows the reader to view both sides and make up their own mind who to root for.
Although this novel more than any other in the series is a bit too steampunk for my liking, I still have a great fondness for the Shadows of the Apt and look forward to finishing the story. So long as the next two titles follow the second half of The Air War rather than the style and pace of the first half, it could be a heck of a finale coming up.
Overall: Not the best in the series, but still a good read once you pass the halfway point.
Dominish rating: 72%