Ashana Lian's Fantasy Lab

Fantasy and Fantasy Writing from every angle: fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, artwork, superhero cartoons, children's and YA books, manga, anime, video games and comics. Put the microscope on 'Geek Culture'.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Book: Empire In Black And Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This review is about a month late.

A quick note. A few days ago, there was a HUGE spider hanging outside our kitchen window. We put it outside when it came in the house, but I've been feeling itchy for days and days whenever I think about it. Ugh. Apparently, because this summer was so hot and humid, large quantities of insects have been about so a lot of arachnids are a lot bigger than usual because they have more food. Despite reading this book and being fascinated with how enchantingly the insects were described, it's clear that I'll never be an 'insect person'.

I got my copy of this book signed at Fantasy In The Court, and Adrian Tchaikovsky said that he's always been fascinated with insects. He also said that the TENTH book in the series was released recently, I think! I'm only on the first one!

My reviews is not spoiler-free.


Empire Of Black And Gold analysis

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2008
Fantasy Sub-Genre: Epic/Steampunk

The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace for decades, bastions of civilization, prosperity and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbors.

But meanwhile, in far-off corners, a warlike Empire has been devouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, it killing Art . . . And now its hunger for conquest and war has become insatiable.

Only the ageing Stenwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over. It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path. But first he must stop himself from becoming the Empire's latest victim. 

This is a book I was lucky to come across. To think - I may never have discovered this wondrous world!

This started of really, really well. It may or may not be something to do with the fact that after 13 painful pages of The Bone Season (but I won't give up yet!), I switched to Empire IBAG and BAM. Right from the start, the action unfolds beautifully. There's these wonderful description of the wasps, and the black and gold reference recurs throughout the book as they are the main antagonists. Something about this novel really reminded me of steampunk and really made this world seem vast.

I was so happy and relieved to find that the descriptions were plentiful and I could 'see' what was happening, which has been lacking in the books I read around the time I read this. The story begins with a tense pre-battle scene, and as a small group of people watch it unfold they realise they've been betrayed. It's really heart-wrenching because even though I've just met these characters, I join them in their horror at realising their doom.

Stenwold Maker was such a likeable character from the very beginning, I rooted for him from the start. He's not the typical hero type; at the start of the story he's in his prime, but for the majority of it he is much older and not the fittest of men! His actions verge on desperation as he realises that after year and years of planning, after years of warning that no-one will believe, the Waps are about to invade and he's not ready. You just can't help but want him to win!

One thing that wasn't one hundred percent clear was whether some things were metaphorical or literal. The characters in the novel are described by what 'kinden' they are. For example, Spider-kinden are often tall and very good at manipulating people, but terrible with anything technical like machines. Beetle-kinden and shorter, squat and stocky, and then there's wasp-kinden, ant-kinden, fly-kinden, mantis-kinden and so on. it's incredibly clever the way it's done, and the introduction of the only Butterfly-kinden was breathtaking.

Eventually I realised that in this world, actual insects still exist and the 'Apt' (I think that's what they're called) are races of people like those insects, many with special abilities, like telepathy, wings, seeing in the dark, and so on. Some characters has spines growing out of their rms and I wasn't sure what to imagine. Also, it was hard to remember who was which kinden so I instead tried not to think about it and when by the description given when they were given. Someone, just know what kinden a character gave a clue to their appearance and temperament, which really helped.

I couldn't help noticing was how often the word 'sheer' was used. 'His look, as Salma clutched at his elbow, was one of sheer arrogance' (p.32), 'the sheer fecund exuberance of it' (p.48), 'armour that only Beetle kinded possessed the sheer stamina to wear' (p.69), and i spotted more. It was one of those funny things, one I noticed the second use, I couldn't stop.

I was really intrigued by the being of darkness that Achaeos was of afraid of. I didn't really understand what was happening there, but I liked it anyhow.

The characters began out as loose stereotypes but grew into so much more as the story went on. Che personality - her stubbornness and inability to think things through properly - provoked me to become very frustrated with her very soon, but after the first third of the story, I actually quite liked her. I found Che and Achaeos very sweet, although I felt bad for Totho, specially as he's a 'halfbreed' with a history of being shunned.

Che becoming captive with Salma was one of the most engaging parts of the story, and they went though some really jarring ordeals. Her scene with Captain Thalric was so great because despite that they 100% oppose each other, they also kind of empathised with each other, as if in another life they would've been friends.

I adored Captain Thalric's complex nature - he didn't like all the things he had to do in his job, and he did have a heart. But above all, his duty to the Empire was stronger than any other resolve he had, which became clear in the bit when Che realised that as long as he did his bit for the Empire he didn't much care about the rest. Prior to that, Che had almost been raped so Thalric's indifference was quite disturbing. Likewise, when he was ordered to kill children he just did it and got over it, but he had children of his own and the fact that he had to kill them in front of their mother haunted him.

Tynisa becoming involved with Sinon's gang wasn't something I was sure I liked, but it was very interesting. I felt like she was a little bit of a flat character. Or not as interesting as the others, at least. She didn't seem to have a real drive, expect fighting, and I've kind of seen that a lot lately. One particular twist that was a sucker punch was learning that Tynisa is Tisamon and Atryssa's daughter, and that for years Tisamon had falsely believed her a traitor. Hands down, the most memorable twist of the book.

The Verdict
4 Sha's.

This story was highly imaginative. I loved the Apt, the world was complex and detailed, and the story itself had so many magnificent qualities to it. It wasn't a complete match for me - I don't have any solid faults other than it didn't make me go crazy for it, but I enjoyed it enough to get through it pretty quick. I do hope to read the rest of the series at some point.

Ashana Lian .


  1. Funny you mentioned The Bone Season, I recently bought that and have been nervous to start it. Haven't heard the greatest of things about it.

    Haha, the author is a big fan of sheer. I've noticed I am a big user of definitely and loved when I write reviews. It's just that I'm usually definitely sure that I loved something ;)

    I don't read much fantasy, at least not adult fantasy, I think sometimes I am put off by how big the books are. This one looks good though, I'm really intrigued by the idea of the different types of Kinden. Great review Ashana :)

    1. I met the author of The Bone Season at Fantasy In The Court 2014 and she was so lovely =] and when she told me how she came up with the concept for her book it was fascinating. I'm going to give it another try!

      Hahaha ohhhh me too! I'm also a fan of; 'basically', 'well', 'so', and 'to be honest' or 'in all honesty'. It's like, I use it once and then I get REALLY ATTACHED to those words!

      If you don't read much fantasy, I'd definitely recommend A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because it's shorter than the standard fantasy length, and it's mixed with other elements that I think help to blend the fantasy into the narrative. Despite the fantastic elements its not High or Over-Your-Head Fantasy. c: Thank you, and thanks for commenting!


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