Genre: Epic Fantasy
Paperback: 612 pages
Publication Date: March 23, 2010
Author Website: Adrian Tchaikovsky
In Empire in Black and Gold, debut author Adrian Tchaikovsky brings to fantasy a setting that is near unique, and a story full of sword and sorcery action.
The story follows one Stenwold Maker, a politician and spymaster, who recruits a merry band of young people to serve as spies in Helleron, a mining and factory town. Along the way this band – consisting of Stenwold’s niece Cheerwell, his ward, Tynisia, a foreigner named Salma, and a half-breed artificer known as Totho – encounters many dangers, not least of which is Captain Thalric – servant of the Wasp Empire and man to be feared. The companions and their enemy move through the Lowlands battling one another both physically and by proxy.
All of this, so far, is pretty standard epic fantasy fare, and if this were all the reader had to go on, s/he might assume that this was yet another Jordan/Martin wannabe. But Tchaikovsky’s work goes beyond its plot by creating a truly unique fantasy world. The world of Empire in Black and Gold bears some similarities to the newest Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting, Eberron. Like that world, this one mixes magic and technology, being given over to neither one wholly, but providing an amalgamation of both.
Tchaikovsky then goes a step further, and makes his world one in which kinship with insects is what differentiates the races. There are nor orcs or elves here. Beetle-kinden, Wasp-kinden, Spider-kinden (not an insect, but certainly a relative), Mantis-kinden Ant-kinden, Moth-kinden and various others, as many as the types of insect it seems. All of these races are human, and so can interbreed, but each race has certain abilities and skills based on which insect they are kinden to. Wasps can fly and have a sting, Beetles are gifted in artifice and construction, Ants can speak mind to mind, Spiders are gifted in diplomacy and subterfuge, Mantis’s are unstoppable warriors and Moths are mystical beings with magic powers. It is a unique spin on fantasy, and mixed with the magic/tech setting Empire and Black and Gold becomes one of the most spectacular debuts of the year.
With this setting and lots of sword-fighting action, Tchaikovsky barely pauses for character development, but even so, this student of psychology and zoology manages to create multiple character interactions which give the seeming multitude of characters dimensionality unexpected in a novel so top-heavy with fight and battle scenes. And what fight scenes! Tchaikovsky pays careful attention to detail in relaying the sequence of different fights, and while perhaps there are a bit more than this reviewer prefers, all of them reminded him of the sort of scenes found in R. A. Salvatore’s stories of Drizzt Do’Urden.
Empire in Black and Gold is a stunning debut, original in setting, peopled with interesting characters, and plot that moves quickly and excitingly. I highly recommend this novel to epic fantasy readers looking for something new and unusual, sword and sorcery readers who love a good fight scene, fans of character driven fantasy, and anyone look for a fresh and innovative take on an age-old narrative.