- Shadows of the Apt: introduction
- October 22nd, 2011
I have become increasingly aware since the release of book 7 a few weeks ago that the Shadows of the Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky does not get nearly enough love on the internet. I know I'm not going to change that (I doubt anyone will even read this post) but by god if Lccorp2 can start his lj bashin Eragon why can't I start mine by praising a series I enjoy?
The series takes place in the world of the Insect-Kinden, an alternate history where giant insects terrorised primitive man (and incidentally killed off most of the large mammals) before early man managed to make mystical contact with the insect spirits, each tribe acquiring traits based on its insect totem. In addition to general traits common to all members of each race (all Beetle-kinden are enduring, all Spider-kinden are intelligent and good looking, all Mantis-kinden are badass), individuals can pick up pseudo-magical abilities called Ancestor Art, enabling them to mimic some aspect of the insect totem such as flight, night-vision or crawling up the walls like Spiderman.
As an idea for a team of superheroes this idea would be uninspired (see above re: Spiderman), but as a piece of fantasy worldbuilding its one of the more unique examples I've ever seen in fantasy literature, and I've read a fair amount.
Thankfully, Shadows resists the temptation to infodump at its readers as I've just done and reveals all these details (or not, the bit about Giant Insects actually comes from the author's blog) in the midst of a gripping plot.
On said blog, Tchaikovsky identifies himself with the other modern authors reacting against Tolkien and his imitators, presenting a realistic world replete with flawed humanity and shades of blah blah blah (as you can tell I have a lot of time for the New-oh-piss-off school of fantasy) but I would personally place him as a sort of polar opposite to George R R Martin. Instead of a world where everyone is either some degree of bastard and the world is grim and hopeless, the world of the Insect-kinden is essentially an optimistic one: even the ruthless gestapo officer tailing our heroes is a good man deep down, and though every society is flawed each also has some redeeming features: there is something glorious in the savagery of the Mantis-kinden and the pride of the Ants, even as they are those races greatest faults. There is even something to admire in the racial purity obsessed Wasp Empire, which does at least treat the ubiquitous fly-kinden better than most other places manage.
It is clear that Tchaikovsky is interested in using his series to explore social justice issues, such as discrimination, exploitation and the endemic nature of both even in the best intentioned societies. It's never heavy handed, but it is even handed and intelligently handled. If it's one fault with this its that the problem has been posed without suggesting a solution, but there are still three books to go and it is entirely possible the author doesn't intend to answer his questions; possibly because he fears that readers will disapprove of the answers *coughHarry Pottercough*.
Having spent a little time praising the series in general, over the next few weeks I intend to write some about each of the seven books released thus far, gushing over them in turn until maybe I can somebody to pick this excellent series up. For verily, it is a sign of something wrong with the world when people are reading Richard Morgan instead of this guy.