Yes, June was a quiet month here at Alexandria. To kick off what I'm sure will be a more productive July, here is a review I wrote for SFX magazine earlier this year: Salute the Dark, volume four in Adrian Tchaikovsky's fun on-going series. My reviews of the previous instalments are here, here, and here.
In related news, at a housewarming party a few months back I ran into Tchaikovsky's agent, Simon. "Oh, it's you!" he exclaimed. "Queen of the three-star reviews!"
I am amused. This one got three stars, too.
War may be good for absolutely nothing, but there’s no denying its effects on technology. By the end of this fourth installment of the ‘Shadows of the Apt' series, the peoples of Tchaikovsky's steampunk fantasy world have not only developed the local equivalents of mustard gas and a Gatling gun, they're also thinking about fixed-wing aircraft. If this volume is carnage - and, with the Wasp army invading new territory while its older conquests rebel in its wake, it is - goodness knows what's in store. We predict nuclear holocaust by book ten.
Salute the Dark wraps up the first phase of the story. Loose ends remain, and at least one major character death looks to be temporary, but there is plenty of resolution for dedicated readers. It will mean little to newcomers, though, and in general is less successful than the last two volumes. Certain characters - notably conflicted artificer Totho - stay largely offstage until their big moment, while others - like upbeat Cheerwell - mark time in brand new subplots that add little. With so many plates spinning, some struggle to earn their emotional payoff in the few chapters allotted them. New locales like the Dragonfly Commonweal get short shrift, and are accordingly much less vivid than the places we've visited previously.
Where Tchaikovsky excels is in portraying the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances: uncertain, terrified, but trying anyway. There are still examples here: the new Bee queen of Szar, resistance fighters in Solarno. But the shift from the close focus of the previous books to a larger city-hopping canvas sacrifices some of the human story, giving the sense of pieces being moved around a board.