Mark's Reviews > Dragonfly Falling

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
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's review
Jun 16, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy
Read from June 16 to 19, 2011

"Have you any idea how many bolts we've loosed in the last few seconds? Let Malkan spend his men instead, because they are more easily replaced."

I expected more of the same from the first book of this series, and when I read Dragonfly Falling, I was very surprised, because where the first book is at most a story of duels and skirmishes and guerrilla battles in the streets, this one drops you into a war. And I don't mean that there is a whole book worth of setup and then the war is the climax. The war rages through the whole book and there's not much pausing to catch one's breath for either the characters or the reader. It's army vs. army and there are a lot of armies and there is a lot of death.

It's rare in epic fantasy to really cut to the core of war as a dehumanizing thing, because most focuses on the valor of the heroes of the given story. Even in something like A Song of Ice and Fire, for all of its gritty realist take on fantasy, it's really only one shred of the story (Arya in books 2-3 and Brienne in book 4) where the cost of war is brought home to the reader in the way that it is here. That's because something like the Battle of the Blackwater happens only through the eyes of a handful of POV characters, but Tchaikovsky's mode of telling the story gives you a much more total experience as the Wasp Empire begins its war against the Lowlands and the Lowlands, to the surprise of all, rally to fight back. And the scale of this war is epic, and it's told in an epic way in the classic sense. There are a huge number of characters who seem to be introduced only to be killed, reminiscent of something like The Iliad in the way that the reader is there with them in their final moments. The sheer number of these drives home that tragedy of war: that the lives of those people all amounted to naught because they're grist for the mill.

The blend of the fantasy and the steampunk is fantastic here, with a lot of focus in this volume on the core of that technology being to devise new and more effective ways for different people to kill one another. It's telling how the artificers on different sides of the conflict respond to the use of their creations. A brilliant character of the Wasp Empire is introduced here to drive this home: Colonel-Auxilian Drephos, whose frequent monologues espouse the notion that people would be killing one another with sticks and stones if there were no machines, and so why not use his intelligence to streamline the process of those people (whom he repeatedly refers to as just meat) to kill one another? He is mad and he is a genius. When I read a new series I often find myself comparing characters to the standard archetypes, and how certain qualities remind me of certain characters from another work. Drephos certainly fits the mad scientist vein, but he's so unlike the way this is usually presented because we see him in his element, and not as a direct antagonist because he, himself, is not taking the field against the good guys, nor sending assassins to kidnap/kill someone's child or whatever.

Also introduced in this volume is the Emperor of the Wasps, which I think was important to do at this point because it shows the power behind the menace. He is not directly a significant character here, but clearly he will be impacting the story in subsequent volumes.

This is really a great second installment. If what's left of the series is anywhere near this level, then there's something special on our hands.
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