Blood of the Mantis: A slower, more thoughtful sequel

Blood of the Mantis: Shadows of the Apt Kindle Edition by Adrian Tchaikovsky fantasy book review Adrian Tchaikovsky Shadows of the Apt 1. Empire in Black and Gold 3. Blood of the MantisBlood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Things begin to slow down some in Blood of the Mantis (2009). The third book in the SHADOWS OF THE APT series is the smallest, and yet took the longest for me to read. Adrian Tchaikovsky maintains the same level of writing established in the first two, but seems to be struggling a bit with middle-book syndrome. The events in book 3 are too important to completely leave out of the story, it’s too long to be split between other books, and feels a little wanting after the first two books’ onslaught of awesomeness.

Blood of the Mantis is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just not as good as the first two. It had some seriously high standards to meet after Dragonfly Falling. Dragonfly Falling blew me away and is likely to be a contender for my favorite book this year. I think my perspective might be a little skewed as well. I’ve been reading these one right after the other, so the differences between the two are immediately apparent to me, possibly making my judgment a little unfair. With the previous two so fresh in my mind, I simply can’t help making comparisons.

The plot is a continuation of what is set in motion in the previous books, and Blood of the Mantis doesn’t have an strong subplot of its own. The characters are still hunting the ShadowBox, and Stenwold is still dealing with political intrigue in Collegium and Sarn while trying to rally an increasingly unlikely Lowland alliance. The character development that was so amazing in both the previous books is almost nonexistent here. A few side characters get a little more attention, but nothing develops to the level of the previous books.

Tchaikovsky does take the reader to some new places. We get to see the lands around the Exalsee, and the potpourri of kinden that inhabit that area. I did enjoy the notion that SHADOWS OF THE APT will have a much larger geographical playground. The first two books never talked much about anything beyond the Spiderlands. Blood of the Mantis is the first to take the story into those other foreign lands.

Tchaikovsky has set himself up with a beautiful and amazing world to play in. The variety of races and characters at his disposal is limitless. Blood of the Mantis may be a bit of a stumble in the series, but it’s a very small stumble. I’m very excited for book 4, and I get the feeling my reservations about Blood of the Mantis will be quickly forgotten.Blood of the Mantis (Shadows of the Apt, Book 3) Paperback – May 25, 2010 by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Author)

~Justin Blazier


Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky fantasy book reviewsAfter Dragonfly Falling, I was pretty excited for the next instalment in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s SHADOWS OF THE APT series — and Blood of the Mantis didn’t disappoint. In this third book, Tchaikovsky sends Cheerwell and Nero to the city of Solarno, where they meet the fly-kinden pilot Taki as they resist the Wasp Empire’s unquenchable thirst for conquest. Meanwhile, Thalric, Tynisa, Tisamon, and Achaeos are off hunting the Shadow Box in Jerez, a magical artifact of great, dark power. While Justin doesn’t seem to like Blood of the Mantis quite as much, I personally thought it was the best book in the series so far.

One of the first things that I noticed was the structure of Blood of the Mantis: it begins in media res, with the first chapter two months ahead of the next few. Tchaikovsky does something similar later on in the novel as well. I know I noted that the structure of book one wasn’t quite to my satisfaction, but what’s changed with Blood of the Mantis is simply that I’m now more familiar with Tchaikovsky’s world and better situated to understand what’s going on plot-wise, whereas this wasn’t quite true in Empire of Black and Gold. As a result, the temporal differences in Blood of the Mantis worked perfectly for me both times because Tchaikovsky is able to create suspense and drama with this technique; there was some excitement to look forward to even as the action slowed a little, and that kept me turning pages.

Shadows of the Apt by Adrian TchaikovskyI’d like to add here that as Justin noted in his review, Blood of the Mantis has slowed down significantly compared with the earlier books. While I agree with him completely, I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing: the characters combined with some other factors more than make up for a slower book. For me, Blood of the Mantis is all about the characters; Tchaikovsky brings them to the forefront and forces us to confront their existential crises: will Totho return to Collegium or will he cast his lot in with Colonel-Auxilian Drephos and the Wasp Empire? Will Thalric turn traitor once more and betray Stenworld or remain exiled from the Empire? When Tchaikovsky lets us ask these questions, he brings out a level of internal conflict previously almost nonexistent in SHADOWS OF THE APT. By the end of Blood of the Mantis, I felt like I knew all the characters intimately and understood their psychologies. Not only did this character-building add a new level of depth and complexity to the series, it more than made up for the weak subplots and lack of action, which helped Blood of the Mantis form a welcome contrast with its action-packed predecessors.

One final aspect of Blood of the Mantis that I enjoyed was Tchaikovsky’s scope. By sending his characters on quests in distant lands, he exposes his readers to new cultures, new insect-kinden, new ways of thinking, and of course, new factions in politics. Having finished book four as of this writing, I can also say Blood of the Mantis does a fantastic job setting up its successor and expanding the scope of the series. Throughout Blood of the Mantis, it’s just fascinating to meet all the new people in Tchaikovsky’s world, so if you’ve read book two — don’t stop there! Perhaps the only thing I’m not sure about yet is what purpose the [HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER] beetle-kinden under Lake Limnia near Jerez [END SPOILER] serve. Hopefully we’ll find out in the next few novels. Onward toward book ten we march!

~Kevin Wei

Published in 2009. Driven by the ghosts of the Darakyon, Achaeos has tracked the stolen Shadow Box to the marsh-town of Jerez, but he has only days before the magical box is lost to him forever. Meanwhile, the forces of the Empire are mustering over winter for their great offensive, gathering their soldiers and perfecting their new weapons. Stenwold and his followers have only a short time to gather what allies they can before the Wasp armies march again, conquering everything in their path. If they cannot throw back the Wasps this spring then the imperial black-and-gold flag will fly over every city in the Lowlands before the year’s end. In Jerez begins a fierce struggle over the Shadow Box, as lake creatures, secret police and renegade magicians compete to take possession. If it falls into the hands of the Wasp Emperor, however, then no amount of fighting will suffice to save the world from his relentless ambition.

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff September 2009 – September 2012) Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on Tolkien. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. Justin lives in a small home near the river with his wife, their baby daughter, and Norman, a mildly smelly dog. He doesn't have much time for reviewing anymore, but he still shows up here occasionally to let us know how he feels about stuff.

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KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is a Math-Stat and Economics major at Columbia University. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea (a href="http://www.fantasyliterature.com/fantasy-author/funkecornelia">Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of SF/F at the ripe old age of 5). Kevin loves epic fantasy, military SF/F, New Weird, and some historical fantasy; some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. In his view, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he's extremely particular about this last bit. Outside of his SF/F life, Kevin loves politics, the startup lyfe, non-fiction, and more. You can find him at: kevinlwei.com

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2 comments

  1. Great review Kevin, and you provided some excellent counters to my somewhat underwhelming experience. Blood of the Mantis was unfortunately the last Shadows of the Apt book I read in the series. Your review has rekindled my interest in the series, and I will be looking to finish it sometime in the near future.

    • Kevin Wei /

      Thanks, Justin! I think book four is a great place to stop reading (lots of subplots end there), so maybe that can be your guinea pig for getting back into this series

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