Empire in Black and Gold

Tor. (Shadows of the Apt, Bk. 1). Jun. 2021. 624p. ISBN 9781529050264. pap. $16.95. FANTASY
The first volume in this re-release of the 10-book epic fantasy series begun in 2008 by Arthur C. Clarke Award–winner Tchaikovsky (Doors of Eden). A band of misfits resists the oncoming tide of an inexorable empire, but it’s not quite a full-scale rebellion, at least not yet. The characters all live in the Lowlands, where industry has supplanted magic. This is a common type of setting for steampunk-style epic fantasies, but the origin of the series’ species is not. In the Lowlands, where insects evolved to sapience, the beings resisting the black and gold empire of the wasp-kind are the manipulative spiders, the mind-melding ants, and especially the industrious beetles. A dragonfly-prince, a spider-duelist, various engineer and pilot beetles, and their old mentor, who has seen it all before, set out to save a world that doesn’t yet know it needs to be saved. Their journey is a rollicking adventure, and a walk through very dark places.
VERDICT Tchaikovsky’s “Shadows of the Apt” series brought this world to fascinating life in exquisite detail. The story may follow familiar fantasy tropes, but the characters make the story seem fresh and new. Highly recommended for fantasy and steampunk readers looking for a truly epic (and complete!) tale, fans of the author, and anyone looking for a great but different story about the rise and overthrow of fantastic empires. A good purchase for libraries that don’t own older editions of the series.
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