REVIEW : A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe


As years slowly tick away, I always expect for Gene Wolfe to announce his retirement from writing but every time he does the exact opposite. He surprises me by offering a completely new tale that is as thought-provoking as his best works were. "A Borrowed Man", his latest novel, is the prime example of the fact that even in this day and age, Wolfe is still a major force to be reckoned with. Having said that, Wolfe is never one to look towards the past. He’s constantly evolving even though some of his readers would want him to churn out the same old stuff. Happily I don’t consider myself to be one of them and he is not type of an author anyway.

"A Borrowed Man", his latest SF novel is a far cry from the “Book of the New Sun” series and is more akin to some of his recent output such as "Peace" or "The Land Across". Set in a near future North America where our civilization is just about replaced by the next generation society which still retains many familiar elements. At first glance, it is a wondrous place with advanced technology and other marvels such as robots and clones. Such institutions as libraries have evolved into something as far removed from the stuffy rooms filled with print books as possible.  If you ever wanted to have a chat with your favorite authors, even if they've died long time ago, in the world of the future that is a distinct possibility thanks to cloning and the ability to upload personalities into them. This allows for many interesting possibilities, and one of them involves E. A. Smithe, a borrowed person. Living on a third-tier shelf in a public library, his personality is actually an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Author in question has written in a secret in a text of one of his novels, Murder on Mars - a way to a tremendous wealth. Colette Coldbrook, a library patron, takes E. A. Smithe out of the library on a quest to find the book and discover its secret.

Just going by the synopsis alone, "A Borrowed Man" seems like an extraordinarily imaginative book but when you combine it with Wolfe's poetic language, then you finally get something that is truly remarkable. It is simply a magnificent read that once again shows that Wolfe is simply not ready for retirement yet. If anything, he is still writing as powerfully as ever. 

Review copy provided by Tor Books
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The story behind The Traitor by Seth Dickinson

I just can't stop Baru Cormorant.

If you give someone like Baru one inch, she'll take over your whole mile and convert you to metric. She refuses to be contained. She seizes on the smallest advantage and takes it up as a weapon. 

And she beat me.

Back in 2011, just after my 22nd birthday, I wrote a short story about Baru, grandmaster manipulator, renegade accountant, imperial operative, lover and revolutionary. It was my very first professional sale! I was so proud.

I had all these other plans. I joined a PhD program in social psychology, where I planned to study racial bias in police shootings. Then I got a gig at Bungie Studios writing lore and flavor for Destiny — a childhood dream job, since I loved their games so much.

And yet here I am, four years and more than a dozen short stories later, out of grad school, away from Bungie, still writing about Baru. She refused to be contained in a short story. She maneuvered her way out and somehow, somehow, right in the middle of my first year of grad school, she convinced me that I needed to write a novel about her!

Who is Baru? Where did she come from?

A large part of her came from conversations. Online debate about who was 'allowed' to be the protagonist of an epic fantasy story — because, some argued, a woman or a person of color or a queer person (or someone who, like Baru, was all three) would face 'too much oppression to be interesting'. I knew Baru would spit in the face of those arguments. Or, I suppose, hire someone else to stab them in the back.

Part of her came from that ancient Internet favorite, the Evil Overlord List. I wanted to write a heroine who got to do all the fun stuff — building fortresses, organizing conspiracies, scheming and manipulating to change the world! We all love a good overlord scheme. Why not put it at the center of the story?

A piece of Baru, and so much of Baru's foe, the cunning Empire of Masks, came from my work in psychology. I learned that the human mind is a complicated, self-deceptive, self-justifying machine. It slants and skews with hidden biases. What if a conquering empire decided to enslave its subjects not in body, but in mind?

(Isn't that the most frightening kind of control? They'll let you do anything, but they know you'll choose to obey.)

Baru's a master of structural manipulation. She plays economies, armies, and politics with a savant's grace. But her discipline and self-confidence make her vulnerable to so many blind spots. She doesn't take care of herself. She forgets that she's surrounded by other players, all with their own inner lives, their own hopes and dreams. She's afraid of love.

I think Baru stays with me because her battle is a part of all our lives.

We're all alone inside our skulls, right? We have no way to ever know what someone else is really thinking. But we need other people, we need them so much, we have to believe in their love and in their belief in us. So we build little models of them in our heads, tiny spouses, tiny friends, tiny family, and we guess. We say, ah, the model loves me. I trust the real article loves me too!

When we get it wrong, it's heartbreaking. We love someone we shouldn't, or we leave someone who needs us. We suffer hurt, or, worse, we inflict it.

Baru's long, quiet war depends on manipulation and subtlety. In order to liberate her homeland, she has to pretend to be someone she's not, win the trust of those around her, and wear a thousand masks. If she gets it wrong, she dies. And so does that hope of liberation.

But she has to cling to the belief, deep down, that trust is possible. That there's more to life than masks and cunning.

That's the world Baru's fighting for. The world we all hope for. Maybe that's why I can't stop her.

Read an excerpt from the book:

Seth Dickinson
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REVIEW : Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

For years Gary Gibson has been one of my favorite science fiction writers and I've always felt that he's been unfairly dismissed by the SF community and award ceremonies but then again when was the last time Peter F, Hamilton, Neal Asher or Alastair Reynolds won anything? I've always found his stories to be magnificent in scope and his imagination intriguing so each new book was a reason for a small personal celebration. However, with "Extinction Game" Gibson decided to shake things up a bit. You can't really say anything against Gibson's wish to do so as he's been steadily banging out space operas for some 10 odd years now.

From the opening page "Extinction Game" feels a bit local when compared to his other stuff. Most of the plot takes place on a post-apocalyptic desolate Earth but it here's where the main twist and that glorious imagination come to their full force. Earth we are introduced at the beginning is just one of the many parallel, alternate and most importantly, devastated Earths. From each of these comes a single person, a last human alive rescued in the final moment by the Authority, a shadowy organization. Together they for a crack team of pathfinders tasked with recovering weapons and data from other Earths struck by apocalyptic events. Jerry Beche, a main protagonist and the only survivor of deadly viral attack on his Earth, is struggling to cope with this new situation and mistrusts both his new secretive masters and his team. But when things suddenly escalate beyond control, he'll have to make a choice and decide whom to eventually trust.

There's no discussion about the fact that "Extinction Game" is very different to other Gibson's output but constant readers will still find plenty to enjoy here. The way the story is present is reassuringly familiar and I was hooked up from early on because of its interesting premise. Alternate worlds always leave plenty of place for the authors to go completely bonkers. There physics and climate to play with but in this case Gibson stays mostly on the line. I suspect there was simply too much to tell to go full board. Between all the action, setting up a stage, and plenty of twist there wasn't must space to play with. Therefore, I certainly hope that there's a sequel in the works as the whole setting is simply too good to be wasted on a single book. And not to forget, there's plenty of unanswered questions. But even if it turns out that "Extinction Game" is just one off, the main fact about it is that it is simply a damn good read. It's perhaps not Gibson's best book but I've simply stormed through it with that same sense of wonder and excitement that accompanied reading any of his other work. What more can you wish for?

Review copy provided by Tor UK.
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The story behind Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

Starborn wasn’t birthed from a singular idea, but rather the whole of my love for the fantasy genre. As well as being a child of the Harry Potter generation, I began my journey with Tolkien and found The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion the most wonderful things I’d ever encountered in my young life. Tolkien appears to have a peculiar effect on most teenagers who read him and I immediately had to get my hands on as much fantasy as possible, as swiftly as possible. So I moved onto Alan Garner, Robin Jarvis, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Dragonlance…and everything I read coaxed me deeper into the woods. However, it wasn’t until I stumbled across what I call the epics (Robin Hobb, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, James Clemens, David Eddings to name a few) that I realised I wanted to do what they did: create these huge, sweeping storylines to ensnare readers and whisk them off on an adventure.

So at 15, filled with zeal, I wrote my own novel, which had everything from elves to dwarves to dark lords in it…and was thus pretty awful. But I enjoyed writing it so much that I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. The seeds of Starborn, which has had several titles over the course of its development, were planted two years later whilst I was reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. Now I know this series has its faults, but wow – to a 17 year old, it was nothing short of magnificent. Reincarnated hero! Satan-like evil entity! Megalomaniac sorceresses! At that moment, I knew nothing short of epic fantasy would do for me.

Although Starborn probably bears a closer resemblance to Trudi Canavan and David Eddings in style, one of the first reviews noted it was the tiniest bit Jordan-esque, and I’m totally going to run with that. Where it differs is of course in its projected length – I’m writing a trilogy rather than a 14-book epic and little of it is planned out. Regarding the writing of Starborn itself, I knew how the story would end, but had no notion of how to get there. Using George R. R. Martin’s metaphor, I’m a gardener, planting the unrecognisable seeds of an idea and watching them grow. I believe you have to get to know your characters in the same way as people – there’s no way you can understand everything about them at first glance. That’s why series are such fun: they give a writer time to listen to their characters, to walk the path beside them.

The first draft took me 13 months without working to deadline, and I spent a further year redrafting and editing and trying to knock it into shape. During that time I was reading lots of other fantasy and when I told a friend that I planned to switch the gender of my protagonist from male to female, he recommended Philip Reeve’s excellent Mortal Engines series. One of the main characters is Hester, whose life is bold, brave and tragic, and I learned a good deal from Reeve’s deft characterisation. Hester’s a hero, but far from stereotypical; her life is very dark indeed and she has an attitude to violence that flies in the face of conventional heroism. The ambiguous hero is one of my central themes and Reeve’s ability to create a sympathetic character who does unsympathetic things helped me to understand how such a character could come to be, how they’d interact with others and how they’d move forward in their life.

Character wasn’t the only research I did. When these questions pop up in the context of fantasy, a lot of people assume there isn’t much research involved unless you’re writing historical fantasy. And I’m the first to admit that research didn’t play a huge part in the writing process – I wasn’t trying to recreate the Roman Empire, or utilise as a template any ancient structures of government, but I still found myself faced with a host of smaller questions which necessitated a bit of digging. Horses, for example, tend to feature hugely in fantasy books, but I know next to nothing about them and my horses are, I admit, still pretty sketchy. Topography of landscape was another thing and how far you could travel in a day over different terrains. I also have airships, which I needed to make realistic enough without going down steampunk avenue, but the most fascinating (and gross) research involved burns and their effect on the human body. For Book Two, I’ve had to look up stuff on necrosis, blood poisoning and the process of decomposition…which makes it sound like I’m writing a crime novel. In conclusion, research is fun.

I won’t deny that my day job as a bookseller has also been a major influence and I’ve written quite a bit about my experience as both writer and bookseller and how one informs the other. I completed most of Starborn during my time at Waterstones, sitting at my desk amongst the books, and it’s certainly affected the way I view the creation of a book as a physical, tradable object as well as an artwork. Once a story reaches the end of the publishing process, ownership shifts; Starborn now belongs to the readers, for whom it was written and I very much hope it will be enjoyed. For someone who has worked closely with books for the last five years, the journey has been all the more poignant. As author and bookseller both, I find myself at the beginning and end of the creative process, and though I’ve imagined the result many times, it’s still amazing to see my imperfect words sandwiched between the covers of a book. It’s a wonderful feeling and one I hope will never go away.

Lucy Hounsom
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REVIEW : Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson


In a bad design choice, American edition of Rjurik Davidson's debut novel "Unwrapped Sky" prominently features a minotaur on its cover. There's nothing wrong with minotaurs as such and they certainly play a part in the story but the issue I have with the cover in question in that it sends a completely wrong impression about "Unwrapped Sky". In my opinion, Davidson's debut is completely removed from what you would usually expect from your bog standard high fantasy and instead occupies that undefinable place in literary fantasy that's more interested in the voyage than the quest. It is the kind of book that is, for the lack of better classification, often described as new weird or magical realism. You know the kind I'm talking about. China Mieville and Bulgakov instantly come to my mind as reference points. Even though Davidson is still not up to their level of craft, his poetic prose clearly shows that he has plenty of potential.

"Unwrapped Sky" revolves around Caeli-Amur, an ancient city on the brink of irreversible change. The governing power is continuously shifting between houses who between them control the livelihood of its citizens. They're House Technis who attract industrial workers, Hourse Arbor with farmers and House Marin with fishermen. The streets of Caeli-Amur are filled of intrigues and as we're introduced to Kata, n philosopher-assassin, she's in the middle of her latest scheme, getting rid of two minotaurs. Similar can be said about bureaucrat Boris Autec who is working for House Technis and whose ruthless rise through the ranks severely affects his private life and for Maximilan, a thaumaturgist scholar and a revolutionary who spends his life researching secrets of Great Library of Caeli Enas. As the Festival of the Sun is approaching minotaur are arriving to the city as well as an endless stream of refugees and mutants. All these are heralds of an inevitable change. Now it is only a matter of figuring out where the pendulum will drop.

What made "Unwrapped Sky" instantly appealing to me is its strangeness. It is not often that you feel like you are reading something completely new and unique and this was definitely one of those increasingly rare cases. It's just bizarre but never in a way that pushed me away. Over the course of the story Davidson manages to control the amount of weird and knows when and how to stop. I was surprised by how much I've enjoyed this grim and poetic tale and I'm already looking forward to the sequel despite that being the biggest issue I had with it. At the end it is rather open ended. And yes, UK edition got their cover right with their atmospheric depiction of deep waters. It is much more indicative of the book - there's much more under the surface of "Unwrapped Sky" than it is evident at first glance.

Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK.
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REVIEW : The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson


Fantasy powerhouse, Brandon Sanderson, is back once again, this time with "The Rithmatist", one of his most interesting novels yet. To put it bluntly, due to use of illustrations by Ben McSweeney as an integral part of the plot, "The Rithmatist" is quite unlike anything Sanderson has produced so far but have no fear, it bears all the things that usually characterize his writing - approachability, madcap but logical magic system, fast paced adventure and that familiar sense of excitement that he so easily provokes in readers.

"The Rithmatist" is set in a school for magically gifted children, Armedius Academy, and as we're introduced to Joel he's not in a great position. He's frustrated because he's obsessed with the magic of Rithmatics but simply doesn't have a necessary gift. Unfazed by the fact and powered by childlike enthusiasm he forces Professor Fitch to introduce his to the concept. While he still can't use its elements (looking like fascinating chalk figures), at least Joel understands their workings. Suddenly, a series of kidnappings casts a dark cloud over the school. Someone is kidnapping and killing all the top Rithmatist student and Joel, thanks to his unique position, can investigate the situation without feeling like a target himself. Together with a Rithmatist apprentice Melody, he's soon racing against the time to stop the killer as more and more students disappear. Joel sees the this challenge as something more than murder investigation. For him it is also a way to prove himself to Rithmatist crowd but as times passes by he grows up and realises that there are far more important things than being accepted. This realisation changes something else in him but you'll have to read the book to find out more.

"The Rithmatist" is a novel aimed at readers of all ages so, admittedly, some of the character depth is sacrificed for the simplicity but on the other hands you can enjoy reading it together with your children. Perhaps they'll catch the bug and in a few years they'll start reading Mistborn. Another great thing about it that Sanderson cleverly avoid the whole teenage romance issue. It's almost impossibly refreshing once you realise that its missing from the plot. In the end, however old you are, as soon as you get your hear around his latest magic system this turns into a bloody great adventure story. Best thing about it that, in true Sanderson fashion, this is just a beginning of a series - there's a sequel planned for 2017, tentatively called "The Aztlanian". When does that man sleep?

Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK.
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The story behind Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Like most books, Unwrapped Sky emerged as a combination of influences. In Unwrapped Sky, I pictured the city of Caeli-Amur as inhabiting the space between about 1870 and 1920. It’s a modern world, but it’s also a world that is in our past. There are factories, modern political movements, a kind of state capitalism run by three bureaucratic houses, an avant-garde art scene, and philosophical meetings within cafes and tiny bars. All of this is infused with an essence of Greek and Roman myth. Wandering among the dirty industrial alleyways are Minotaurs and Sirens: I still find that image exciting. What did I draw on to construct this? Half remembered images from myth and historical reading. There are those who have claimed Unwrapped Sky is a kind-of Marxist or anarchist novel, but I think it’s perhaps better thought of as a historical novel recast into fantasy. The world of Caeli-Amur is nothing like modern post-industrial capitalism. So my interests in ancient society and the revolutionary historical period around the turn of the 20th century are pretty obvious. It’s a genre bending work, influenced by Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection. Writer Mark Lawrence has correctly detected a touch of the Russians – Chekov and Tolstoy – in its structure and concerns. Philosophically it’s close to the existentialism of Sartre and de Beauvoir, and a friend of mine has summarised the book as ‘Les Misérables with minotaurs.’ I’ve written about these influences in Finding Unwrapped Sky.

But what about the actual writing of the book? How did that come about? At first, the novel was going to be a great deal simpler. It was going to tell the story of Kata, the philosopher-assassin, hired to infiltrate the seditionist movement in Caeli-Amur. It was going to examine her ethical and moral conflicts in the context of an upcoming revolt. But around that time I was reading a lot of the realist writers – Tolstoy comes to mind – and I came to realise that if you wanted to depict a major social event, in this case a revolution, it was useful to have multiple points-of-view. In this way, you can show the different social groups from the inside: how they think and act, the way their views conflict with each other, the way they perceive events differently. You can depict the society as a whole. So to Kata’s narrative, I added the story of a rising bureaucrat in House Technis, the most modern of the Houses that rule the city, and the story of the seditionist and thaumaturgist, who wants to lead the coming upsurge. This way of using multiple points of view really does come from the realist writers of the 19th Century and the benefits are apparent. I wanted my book to be rich and dense and repay multiple readings. It also allows you to identify (if not sympathise) with characters whose goals directly clash – someone is going to lose out, but who?

By adding two more characters, the technical challenges increased exponentially. To begin with, I had to plot out three independent character arcs that needed to intertwine across the length of the story. This meant that the arcs had to match temporally: they had to, theoretically at least, all resolve close to the end of the novel. It required an entirely different level of planning to a single point-of-view novel. It required a detailed calendar, which needed to be both flexible (so narratives could change) and logical (one doesn’t simply walk a hundred miles in a day.)

Secondly, a great deal of world building needed to be done. Not only did I need to build personal histories for my three main characters – and for all the minor characters who populate the book – but I had to construct a history of the world of Caeli-Amur. To write about a revolution is also to write about history in any case. I had to explain how the world was moving from one stage to another. That means I needed to have a sense of that history’s driving forces: why and how does society change and shift? Was the history essentially a movement of progress or (like in Tolkien) a slow fall? Was Caeli-Amur’s history likely to follow the path of our world’s: from antiquity, through feudalism, to industrial capitalism? Or was its history more contingent than that, able to move through all kinds of social structures?

To accompany its historical elements, I injected one which was purely imaginative. Like Tolkien, I presupposed a lost ancient world. Unlike Tolkien, I suggested that this world — the world of the Ancients — was an advanced civilization, a utopia, ruined by an apocalypse. The remains of its sophisticated technology lie scattered throughout the world, mysterious and incomprehensible. Hence the world has gone through a devolution — a dark age — but by the start of the novel it is beginning to drag itself back up into industry. In this way Unwrapped Sky retains that sense of melancholy loss that so moves us in Tolkien, but jettisons the conservative shell. Hopefully it speaks in some way to our own losses — to the destruction of the environment, to the losses of many cultures and languages of the world, to the sense that things have somehow come apart. Caeli-Amur also has a future, and its story is a story of social change — the movement from that bureaucratic capitalism to something else, perhaps. That future will be told in Unwrapped Sky’s sequel, The Stars Askew.

Rjurik Davidson
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REVIEW : Farlander by Col Buchanan


One of the best things about being a reviewer for a literary magazine is that you'll continuously be in a position to discover new and exciting authors. The thing is that there's an impossible amount of books out there so it's often hard to commit yourself to works of someone new, especially if it is a series and there's plenty of familiar authors to read. There's simply limited amount of time in life so what you quickly learn to do is to trust editor's recommendations when it comes to new stuff. Over the years Col Buchanan's works were highlighted to me from more than a few people whose taste in book I respect immensely so when a chance came to review the entire trilogy I was absolutely thrilled. “The Black Dream”, third novel in the series is coming out on 12th March but let's start at the very beginning - with “Farlander”.

Buchanan's debut introduces us to Ash, world weary and ailing assassin whose career is nearing its end. But just not yet. From the streets of Bar-Khos he takes on an apprentice called Nico. Bar-Khos is a city under siege by the Holy Empire of Mann and even ten years later the conflict is nowhere near resolution. Ash and Nico embark to reach Sato, monastery hidden in the Cheem mountains which serves as a seat for a shadowy order of assassins who provide insurance for their clients – Roshun. When a woman protected by Roshun is murdered by Holy Empire of Mann 's leader Holy Matriarch's son, Roshun's wheels are fast in motion and soon Ash and Nico are after the revenge. Contact must be fulfilled. This interesting premise powers the plot and while it is blatantly obvious that sequels were intended to follow “Farlander”, Buchanan has done a fine job of keeping his plot tight and gripping.

Published in 2011, “Farlander” announced the arrival of Buchanan with a blast. It wasn't so much that Buchanan's worldbuilding was particularly inventive but it was everything else that made his debut so interesting. Let me explain. Superficially, “Farlander” is a familiar tale told countless times before, both in literature and films - that eternal conflict between good and evil set in a pseudo-historical setting upon which the fantasy as a genre is built upon. The main character is a stereotype and there's steampunk elements such as air-ships that were very trendy at the time. However, what sets Buchanan apart from the crowd is his instant readability and writing skill. In his hands, what once seemed ordinary soon becomes a class on its own. I stormed through “Farlander” and had a whale of a time. Great debut from a promising writer. On to “Stands a Shadow” now!

Review copy provided by Tor UK
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REVIEW : Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Following up a series as accomplished as "Shadows of the Apt" with a book like "Guns of the Dawn" is a gutsy move, especially when you consider how universally loved the former was. It must have been temping to stay with the tried and tested formula that reliably produces results but Tchaikovsky is certainly not an author who plays it safe. Remember, this is a man who based his ten-book long fantasy series on insects-like creatures and somehow pulled it off in a grand style. So while initially "Guns of the Dawn" might raise a few eyebrows but you'll quickly realise that he perfectly well knows what he's doing here - this is all good stuff .

For most of its parts "Guns of the Dawn" doesn't feel like high fantasy at all but occupies that shady shelf of pseudo-histories where everything is familiar and yet somehow strange (to mention few of the newcomers, Aidan Harte's The Wave Trilogy and Den Patrick's Erebus Sequence come to mind). The story, loosely set in technological and social level of Napoleonic times, kicks off by Denlanders murdering Lascanne's king and invading them as if that wasn't enough. The two nations have been allies for as long as anyone can remember but those days are long gone and prolonged conflict is taking its toll on its people. Now the time has come for women to go to war and Emily Marshwic is called up to join the ranks. She has no illusions about where she's going. She already lost her brother and brother-in-low so the ruthless brutality doesn't come as a surprise. The only way to stay sane is to detach herself from reality. As its often the case she realises that nothing is strictly black and white in this conflict and even her own Lascanne has a lot to answer for. This forms a turning point in Emily's mind and I can only invite you to find out what happens next.

Despite not being "Shadows of the Apt" novel "Guns of the Dawn" comes with many recognizable qualities. The ability to tackle huge, brutal and unfair conflicts is still there in all its glory and be it insects or people, Tchaikovsky still knows how to write a tale about small people facing insurmountable obstacles. As a book "Guns of the Dawn" is absolutely massive - it's over 700 pages longs and weights a ton - and yet, I felt like a wanted it to be longer. That's the beauty of it all - knowing how to leave reader gasping for more. The thing is "Guns of the Dawn" comes without the burden of long winded series on its back and its conventions to follow so it is certainly a much easier and lighthearted read despite its length. To conclude, "Guns of the Dawn" finds Tchaikovsky at his invigorated best proving once more that he's anything but a one trick pony. He's obviously got plenty more stories to tell and be it "Shadows of the Apt" or something unrecognizable and new, I know I'll be waiting impatiently to read them.

Review copy provided by Tor UK
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The story behind Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mantids and Musketry – from Shadows of the Apt to Guns of the Dawn

Having a long, long series come to an end is a weird and uncomfortable position for a writer to be in. I love the insect-kinden and their stories – I’m writing more of them even now, short pieces and the like, with more long-fiction planned for future times as yet uncertain. At the same time, though, you do begin to build up a head of steam to do something different – just because you’re deep in a series doesn’t stop those other ideas from coming.

And then one morning you open your eyes and the end of the last book is on the horizon, scuttling closer as you watch, and you realise, This is it; the Promised Times have come, when I step out of this chitin-adorned house and walk in the open air. And now I’m making it sound like The Count of Monte Cristo or something, and that’s doing the insect-kinden a terrible injustice. But the fact remains that I wanted to tell other stories as well as theirs. I had ideas that simply wouldn’t work as kinden plots.

And then you get to the threshold, new manuscript clutched fondly in your arms, and it’s a bit like being housebound for years and discovering on the point of exit that you’ve been an agoraphobic all that time, because that’s a big old step to take. A ten book series can be a very comfortable place, very lived-in and familiar. It’s a hard thing to leave behind, even only temporarily.

Guns of the Dawn is set in a very different world to that of Shadows of the Apt (1). It’s a less overtly fantastical world, and one more precisely located in real world history. Or as much as I ever do, because it’s still entirely fictional – you can see that I’m drawing strongly on Regency/Napoleonic ideas and tropes, but the nations are my own, as are the fireball-throwing magicians and the non-human races and… well, you can take the writer out of the high fantasy setting, but you can’t take the high fantasy out of the… well, you know.

So I didn’t actually sit down and decide “I shall make a corpus of work, so that future academics may talk about ‘Tchaikovskian’ themes,” (2) but during the edits what struck me was that there are definitely some carry-over themes that I wasn’t done exploring in Shadows of the Apt (3). The central dichotomy of the kinden – their Aptness or lack of it – is very much there in Guns, which is equally concerned with an ongoing clash between old and new. There were two sibling monarchies, you see, Denland and Lascanne, and then the Denlanders rose up and murdered their king and declared a republic. And then they turned their eyes on their royalist neighbour and brought war to them because – or so the Lascanne papers say – the presence of a happy, healthy monarchy next door was anathema to their philosophy. This is complicated by the fact that, in this world, ‘divine right of kings’ has magical backing. The King of Lascanne is able to anoint select young noblemen to remake them as warlocks, magicians of awe-inspiring power. And yet, despite that, the (magic-less) Denlanders keep on coming, and no matter what the papers say, they’re showing no signs of slowing down. The old traditions of Lascanne, its stratified class system and its magic, are being put through the ringer, until gentlewoman Emily Marshwic must take up the musket and go defend her home and family…

The setting is different, but the ideas being played out certainly echo the struggles of the insect-kinden. If you have a good enough gun, what is left for magic? The same question could be asked as easily by Totho the artificer or by Giles Scavian, the new-minted King’s wizard, the one triumphant in his engineering, the other despairing for a way of life lost.

(1)  Guns and Shadows is definitely my new band name.

(2)  In the very unlikely event that academics have anything to say about me, it’s likely to be along the lines of “Wasn’t he that crazy guy with all the spiders.” I mean, there are giant spiders in Guns of the Dawn. Maybe not very giant, by the standards of the insect-kinden, but still pretty big for spiders. And big dragonflies, and leeches, and… it’s as if the insect-kinden have been infiltrating the book all the time I was writing it.

(3)        The timeline’s a bit complex, as the original Guns MS was finished before Empire, and then extensively rewritten after, so it’s a bit chicken and egg.

Adrian Tchaikovsky
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