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Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt 1) Paperback – March 23, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Longtime epic fantasy readers will find many familiar elements in this intriguing debut. There's the peaceful, vulnerable land, in this case the Lowlands, threatened by the Mongol-like Wasp Empire. The lone man who sees the danger is unwilling Lowlands spymaster Stenwald Maker. A charmingly diverse group of agents and allies draws from most of the strictly delineated insect-themed clans (which rather resemble the character classes of role-playing games) and runs the gamut from naïve student to embittered mercenary. Patriotic but conflicted Wasp Thalric puts a sympathetic face on evil. Tchaikovsky exercises considerable talent in assembling these well-worn pieces into a new puzzle, developing an interesting story and world with humor and skillful prose. Readers may be pleasantly surprised to find themselves looking forward to future installments. (Mar.)
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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 extraordinary 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’s considered a crackpot, those in power ignore. But he spins his web and becomes a spymaster, doing his best to prepare for the onslaught he anticipates. Each person selected for his group has a tale, and Tchaikovsky develops each slowly, drawing the reader into the lives of each and hinting that there is more to discover. There is a continual sense of urgency and danger, yet there is also time for love and friendship. The story is quickly paced, more than keeps one’s interest, and leaves one looking forward to the next book of Shadows of the Apt to learn more about the characters and how the conflict develops. --Rebecca Gerber
Top customer reviews
After I read Empire in Black and Gold, I recommended it to a couple of my friends, but I found that I had trouble doing so wholeheartedly. I found that I was looking forward to some of the characters (particularly the deadly but deeply flawed "Mantis" Tisamon) and to the next location that Tchaikovsky would describe, as they would often be interesting and thoughtful twists on concepts that have rarely been so well expanded upon in fantasy. The downside of the book lies mostly in the spotty record it has with its POVs, which range from the exciting and nuanced (Tisamon, and the imperial spy Thalric), to the dismal (the story's "Main character" Cheerwell and half-breed artificer Totho).
Cheerwell in particular is a lead weight on the series, growing ever more important from one story to the next while blundering her way earnestly through interesting situations and somehow earning the undying love of everyone she meets. In that description lies another of the story's shortcomings, which is the author's penchant for pairing off every character you meet. Like as not, if you meet a new male character, expect a new female to appear somewhere soon for him to lust over, or vice versa.
The stories are brisk, exciting reads that I often finished in a day, but the series wore out my patience for its flaws in about the fifth book, when the painfully earnest good guys had won one too many heroic last stands and the characters I didn't care for survived one too many scrapes I sincerely hoped would kill them off. But I enjoyed the time I spent, by and large, and I'd recommend trying it to those who still ready fantasy as voraciously as I once did.
As a reader I am naturally "picky" and within the first few pages either it clicks with me or it doesn't. This was one that immediately had a tone I could grab onto without feeling like I needed an appendices for. Coming from the First Law Trilogy, I wasnt expecting to find another book I enjoyed that much but I was pleasantly surprised, but for much different reasons.
This book does not get to the depressing dark abyss level that can be the First Law Trilogy, but it definitely hits hard and low and brings in the personal aspects relating to young adult problems that everyone faces as they discover the world and their place in it.
Saying that, this is did not feel like a Twilight book and it kept itself rounding around the premise that a war is brewing and everyone is an emotional wreck with their baggage dragging behind the pace of impending conflict.
In terms of the content it very much has branch stories with various characters going different directions with new discoveries and characters brought in along the way. Much more digestible than say LOTR and this was the first book where I actually used the map in the front to good effect as the names are easy to remember and to place X people with Y location.
For those of you reading the synopsis and wondering about the bug aspect, it is VERY easy to grasp and was much more compelling of a direction than say Elves/Dwarves would have been in these stories. Given the amount of literature that uses those mechanics, having something you dont know about a race in a book is exactly what got me to consume this book as quickly as I did and order the next one.
Humans are naturally curious and having such an open ended thing as races based off bugs, opens up so many avenues for cultural differences and peculiarities. This is by far what sells the book to anyone that reads it, as it essentially become a "You're a wizard Harry" moment every-time a new bug makes an appearance, as you have no idea what they may be capable of or how they look until you discover them in the coming passages.
I without a doubt recommend this book to anyone that has any interest in Science Fiction/Fantasy and if you loved LOTR, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, or Game of Thrones, you will find something about this book that you like. I would however recommend the book for 16+ for sexual content which is very light and non graphic in this book, but subjects of rape and promiscuity do come up so use your best judgement for the discerning parent. But again, a very good book and I look forward to the future books as with each character I had some sort of investment in and I look forward to seeing these characters develop and to see the plot thicken.
Empire in Black and Gold is an amazing character driven story. The characters are well drawn with their own back stories. The cultures are vastly different and the racial prejudices contribute strongly to the main plot. The author has blended steampunk, magic and the most unique racial elements I've ever read into a story of intrigue, plots and large scale battles.
If the other volumes in the series are the equal or superior of this first book, it will likely become my favorite fantasy series. I am looking very forward to the next book which, happily, is on my Kindle waiting for me since the series has already been published. Did I mention that?
If strong character development is important to you and you enjoy good, tense plotting, this is highly recommended.