Mr. T's second novel and the next installment of the Shadows of the Apt continues the saga of the Lowlands and the Wasp's empire's military adventures to conquer it, one city at a time. Mr T has build an intriguing world here; at one time, various huge insects dominated humanity, but somehow (magic?) humans adapted, sporting/becoming somewhat insect like themselves and mastering the bugs with their 'art'. Hence, we have wasp-kinden, beetle-kinden, ant-kinden, spider-kinden and so forth. Each kinden has their own art-- ant-kinden have telepathy with one another, wasp-kinden can shoot fireballs from their hands, and on and on.
The wasp empire is relatively new on the scene, cobbled together over just a few generations, transforming the wasps from a bunch of squabbling tribes into an empire. After a brutal 12 year war against the Dragonfly lands, the wasps now eye the lowlands-- the center of the Apt. 500 years ago, the moth-kinden ruled humanity, their strange magic backed up by the cold steel of the Mantis-kinden-- stone cold warriors. The former slave races/kinden threw off their chains, however, and carved their own ways, utilizing technology (e.g, the 'apt'). The former rulers-- moths, mantis, spiders, etc., are known as 'inapt' in that they cannot make sense of or use 'modern' technology, even things like crossbows. The former slave races, however, march forth with ever new and developing tech, very steampunkish even though steam power is not very often utilized.
The last volume left us with a cliffhanger-- the wasps were about to besiege an ant city and another wasp army was threatening the heart of the lowlands. Mr. T takes us on a blood soaked journey here, with war manifesting in all its ugliness. Our main protagonists remain the same: Stenwold Maker, a beetle from Collegium, the center of learning of the lowlands; 'Che' Maker, Stenwold's niece who has fallen for Achaeos a moth; Tisamon, a Mantis-kinden weaponmaster and his daughter Tynisa (half spider); Salma, a Dragonfly nobleman, Totho, a halfbreed artificer and so forth.
In a way, this novel seems to be one bloodbath after another, and for sure it is, but on the other hand, we get to see some pretty rich character development and world building on display as well. More and more kinden are introduced and we begin to catch a glimpse of how huge the world actually is-- the lowlands are a very small part of the whole.
Mr. T is known for his biological 'constructs' and his kinden are a pleasure, each with their own 'art', and the technology is amazing as well-- flying machines of all sorts, 'automobiles' something like military ATVs, repeating crossbows and nailguns, all kinds of tools of war. We learn much about the ants here, perhaps the most warlike of the lowlanders, but also more of the Mantis-kinden as well. Tricky spiders with their cunning and endless 'dance' of guile and deceit politically, and of course, the wasps and their secret police pulling strings where ever they can.
My primary issues with this concern the uneven pacing at times; at times a bit of a slog, and in other places, impossible to put down. Yet, Tchaikovsky seems to be getting better at this the second time around. It almost feels like he has so many cool ideas that the narrative gets in the way a bit! Nonetheless, overall a gripping read. Highly recommended if you like military fantasy. 4 buggy stars!