As promised yesterday, here's a reprint of a review I wrote for SFX magazine, issue 186 (Sept 2009). It's about the third volume of the 'Shadows of the Apt' series: Blood of the Mantis, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
There are reasons beside the pagecount to give this a look. While the first volume introduced the high concept – an industrialising humanity shares physical and mental traits with insects – with a quest structure and some adolescent protagonists, the second gave us all war all the time as the Wasp Empire’s conquests spread. Blood expands the scope further, and brings a richer diversity of tone. We travel to fascinating new societies, like swampy Jerez and the sinister, semi-mythic cities beneath its neighbouring lake. Particularly well-drawn is Spider-ruled Solarno, whose fractious politics boils down to “shouting”, as snappy, appealing new character Taki puts it. A Fly pilot, Taki is in some of the book’s best sequences: aerial dogfights with the Wasps.
With so many storylines jostling for space, the (relative) brevity is not an unqualified good. Two compelling strands take place largely offscreen: Dragonfly noble Salma’s successes as guerrilla leader and his increasingly revolutionary turn (he has, we’re told, "a smile baked hard and sharpened to an edge"), and halfbreed Totho’s slide towards the Dark Side as an artificer collaborating with the Wasps, who justifies the brutality of his growing power to himself by recalling past slights incurred for his mixed lineage. Plotting and prose are still rather by-the-numbers, and the occasional cliffhanger chapter endings are clunky rather than suspense-building. But this leaner instalment goes to interesting places, notably its exploration of how culture clashes between kinden affect even the most intimate relationships, and the way war warps aggressors and defenders alike.
Tchaikovsky’s website contains a number of original short stories set in this world – including contributions from guest authors and fans. While browsing the site I also learned (from a comment near the end of this thread) that he's planning at least 10 books in the series!