Blood of the Mantis is the third in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series, wherein humanity is bonded with various totem insect species, gaining special abilities and characteristics from this link. Mantis-kinden are warriors supreme, Beetle-kinden are builders, Ant-kinden have hive minds, etc.
If you’ve read either of the first two books, Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling (or the two reviews I’ve done on them) the overarching conflict hasn’t changed. The Wasp empire continues its bloodthirsty war efforts while a band of rebels, originally formed by Beetle spymaster Stenwold, struggle to band the various cities and territories together into a viable resistance.
Blood of the Mantis has the overall feeling of a bridge novel, i.e. one where the characters are moved into position for bigger events yet to come. Plenty does happen in this third installment, but the sense of change and evolution of the world and characters isn’t as strong as it has been in the previous two books. Is that bad? Not necessarily. It just means some of the bigger questions raised throughout the story aren’t answered by the end, and few (if any) of the plot lines are tied up in neat ribbon. Rather, things seem to fray and unravel the further along you go.
There are two main plotlines in Blood of the Mantis. One focuses on Stenwold’s attempts to control a vicious piece of technology invented by one of his ex-apprentices, Totho. The world of the Apt is now entering an arms race, and Totho is at the center of it, having given himself over to the Wasp empire in order to feel respected and powerful for his engineering skill. While a bigger focus in Dragonfly Falling, Totho isn’t seen as much here, though he does pop up a few times and reveals the darker turns he’s taking.
On the other hand, Achaeos, a Moth-kinden mystic, sets out with Tisamon, a Mantis warrior and one of Stenwold’s staunchest allies, to recover a stolen box containing dark and horrible magic before it can be unleashed on the world. So you have dangerous technology and dangerous magic, and our band of heroes (and anti-heroes) being squeezed in between until their bones are ready to crack.
There remains plenty to enjoy in this series. Characters are cast further afield, encountering strange kinden and new lands. The Mosquito-kinden are a fascinating development, being a vampiric race of mystics who are slowly emerging from the shadows, intent on…exactly what is not evident. But bloodthirsty sorcerers aren’t likely making plans to fill the world with sunshine and gladness now, are they?
There are a few bumps along the way, however. For instance, the opening scene was, for me, one of the rougher beginnings I’ve experienced so far. While some might find it an action-packed kickoff, I found it more confusing and chock-full of Tchaikovsky’s intense technical detail which sometimes detracts from the story. It was only once I got to the second chapter that the story seemed to really begin and I could settle in to the flow of events.
The Shadows of the Apt series continues to offer plenty of adventure, magic and an exotic world set firmly in its own mythology. After Blood of the Mantis, the tale continues in Salute the Dark, coming from Pyr Books this Fall.
For more info: Visit Adrian Tchaikovsky’s website for author info and deeper looks at the world he has created. Also visit Pyr Books for future releases.