We welcome back SCI-FI-LONDON Literary Editor Robert Grant for his review of THE SCARAB PATH, book 5 in Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s Shadows of the Apt series. We publish Adrian's new book in the series, THE AIR WAR, in August.
It’s a year since the events of SALUTE THE DARK. War with the Wasp Empire has ended in a bitter stalemate, but Wasp ambition still burns bright and only internal power struggles keeps their war machine on hold. Empress Seda and her entourage rule but her new Consort, former spymaster Thalric, now finds himself amongst a people he no longer feels as kin, married to a woman he barely recognises, and keeping dark secrets for her that may well get him killed. He needs an escape and his former enemies at Collegium may provide the key.
Che is overwhelmed by grief and loss. Worse still she has somehow been tainted by her mental connection to the Darakyon and is now ‘inapt’ with no way of unravelling what has happened to her. As an election looms, and ever mindful that the war will resume eventually, her Uncle, Stenwold Maker, seeks new allies. He persuades Che to travel to the recently discovered ancient Beetle-Kinden city of Khanaphes, to sound them out. And so she goes, determined also to find the help she desperately needs.
THE SCARAB PATH is a different novel in many ways, not least because it can be read as a standalone. We still have the artifice weapons, the action and adventure, the mystery and intrigue all beautifully wrapped in Tchaikovsky’s unsurpassed world-building, but with the story focused very much on Che and her emotional journey it’s much more personal, and the tone changes from light to dark with her. There’s also way more magic than we’re used to, especially as Che’s inaptness opens her mind to the perception and possibilities of an art that Beetle-Kinden have traditionally shunned.
This is a big book, but its length slows the pace and allows the story time to unfold which suits the mood better. We also get some of the origins, history and geography of the Apt world as Tchaikovsky allows himself time to explore. But while the whole concept of Insect-Kinden makes this series unique, as ever, it’s the wonderfully realised characters that keep you hooked. Even now, after five novels, you be hard-pushed to find epic fantasy that’ll beat it.