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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 28 May 2017
Although I like his new sci-fi (Children Of Time), this earlier work is difficult to identify with, and simply does not have enough of a hook in the story to make you want to read on. I could go on but just not my cup of tea. If you like complex operatic fantasy look elsewhere.
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on 18 January 2015
Now THIS is how you start a series. An interesting mix of races, all with different insect-like characteristics and a world on the edge of an industrial revolution makes for a winning mix. Bring on book 2
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on 21 February 2013
I'm usually very picky when it comes to fantasy novels but I was blown away by empire. I was so impressed I immediately bought the next four books, I'm currently on the third, and look forward to making my way through the series!
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on 21 March 2010
I read until I finished the book in the early hours of the morning because I simply could not put it down.

'The Empire in Black and Gold' tells the story of Stenwold Maker and his student agents who believe that an invasion of their homeland by the neighbouring Wasp Empire is imminent. They are soon caught up in schemes to undermine the enemy whilst trying to overcome the attitude of ignorance that most of their fellow countrymen have about the threat.

The first thing to be said about the book... it is about humans. Not quite like you and me maybe, but even though the various races are described as 'beetle-kinden', 'spider-kinden', 'moth-kinden' etc... and have peculiarities that relate to the name (moth-kinden for example like the night), they do not look like giant spiders, ants etc... and it is easy for the reader to relate to the characters. Each race has certain special attributes, for example, 'ant-kinden' can hear each others thoughts, which adds a lot of fun to the proceedings.

Fun. That is the main impression. The book was very entertaining and fun to read. Lots of action, great characters and a good adventure plot line. It is maybe not as in-depth in the world description as some like it, not as consistent in the way magic and technology are applied and used as could be, but you will note that even those who criticized, still enjoyed it. Guilty pleasure maybe?

If you are looking to find an entertaining fantasy read you won't be disappointed. If you are expecting high-brow, deep and meaningful, realistic in every detail... maybe wrong genre. Five stars because I ordered the next three in the series the moment I finished this one and I already know that it is a book which will end up on my regular re-read pile.

Update: One and two were my favourites, book four the least enjoyable, mainly due to the story progressively getting darker. I suppose this was inevitable as the war with the wasp empire intensifies. The good news is that there is a kind of closure at the end of book four, so even though there is more to come, you could almost read these first four books as a completed series. In this day and age of having to wait years for the next in a series, I quite appreciate that 'pause' effect. Overall I would rate the first four books a three-and-a-half to four star read. Given the price at the moment (April '10) you get excellent value for money.
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on 11 September 2014
I really enjoyed the story and was planning to continue working my way through the series untill I reached 92% on my kindle. Suddenly all the characters I had become familar with disapperared and I seemed to be reading a different book although set in the same universe. I then went on to the back to see lots of drawings of what the different races were supposted to look like. Perhaps it was because I was seeing them on a kindle but I really couldn't tell one lot from another and it was just as well that each picture was labled so would know what they were supposed to be. They all looked liked the rather twee and anemic pictures of Victoraian flower faries which was so far removed form the mental pictures I had formed in my head. Reading, like the radio really does have the best pictures and I have now saved a small fortune by removing all the subsequent books from my wish list.
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on 8 June 2009
It's good to see that - in amidst all the authors who are content to trot out the same old tripe about farmboys and reluctant princes in dull secondary worlds - there are still some writers that attempt to produce something a little different. Writers who actually understand that some degree of innovation is required for the secondary-world fantasy genre to avoid stagnation...and care enough to provide it. British author Adrian Tchaikovsky is one such writer.

Upon first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Empire in Black and Gold is just another epic fantasy. An oppressive empire intent on taking over the world, some young heroes - guided by an older mentor - determined to stand in its way, and so on. Nothing special, nothing original there. Until you discover that the humans of this world all possess insect characteristics, and suddenly you've got something totally different.

It's such a simple idea, but hugely effective. Wasp soldiers (like the fellow on the cover) that can sting their enemies...and fly. Mantis warriors with bladed forearms and a furious bloodlust pumping through their veins. The spiders and their crafty intellect, the beetles and their industry...the list goes on. The result is something both familiar and yet totally exotic, a heady mix that just offers so much potential (which Tchaikovsky is quick to exploit). Couple these various insect-kinden with a curious world in which steam/clockwork technology features heavily, and you have a rich, vibrant setting which proves to be a real strength of the novel. There's no bland 13th century Europe replicas here.

Tchaikovsky proves an equally dab hand at populating his world with intriguing characters and competently builds up several believable relationships. The four young protagonists (Salma, Cheerwell, Tynisa and Totho) are perhaps a little stereotyped in parts - Cheerwell, for example, being the classic coming-of-age character - but they're all developed well. Refreshingly, all receive similar amounts of 'screen time' and Tchaikovsky flits smoothly from one POV to another (often within the same chapter, even paragraph). The antagonist - Captain Thalric - is the star of the show for me, a finely-crafted individual who fights a constant battle between his sense of duty and his conscience, a theme that Tchaikovsky handles with commendable depth and skill.

Plenty of other themes are explored as well, such as innovation versus tradition, which lends serious weight to two relationships in the novel. Various complex relationship issues are also probed, adding real depth to the characters involved and serving as a reminder that - for all their insect 'ancestor arts' - the characters are undeniably human. To complement his absorbing world and characters, Tchaikovsky serves up a solid plot with one or two twists that keep things fresh. His prose is admittedly more solid than stylish, and could have done with a bit more of a lyrical flourish at times. That said, the writing is competent, clean and - most importantly - instantly accessible.

The novel's not perfect: the first third is weaker than the rest of the novel and at times seemed a little lightweight, though my initial fears about Empire in Black and Gold straying into YA territory later proved unfounded. Other minor flaws persisted - for example, Cheerwell seeming to hold her own in one or two fights was a little hard to swallow given her clear martial failings earlier on. Such complaints however are minor and don't spoil what is a very promising debut from a bright new British author.

Ultimately, Empire in Black and Gold is as strong a debut as I've seen in some time, with some real innovation and solid characters and worldbuilding. A novel that is refreshing when compared to many recent books in the same genre. Well worth checking out; Tchaikvosky has real potential to become a big name in epic fantasy.
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on 11 March 2010
This novel, "Empire in Black and Gold" is one of those rare experiences I have as a reader where I really don't want to put a book down. I don't want to stop reading it. That is an unusual thing for me, especially in a book with 612 pages, because there are almost always high spots and low spots so my attention wanders and I begin to anticipate the end. That never happened in this book. Never once was I even tempted to skip over sections because I had come to a dull spot. Adrian Tchaikovsky crafted a fantasy world that was so extremely different from most others that it kept me enthralled. The story remained fresh and exciting throughout.

When I realized that the characters in this book would all have both human and insect traits, I was very surprised. I had no idea how that concept could be carried out without making me, a person who is definitely not a fan of the creepy-crawly, decidedly uncomfortable. These characters are so finely honed that you cease to even think of them as part insect. Instead I thought of them as humans with highly unusual genetic adaptations. Master Stenwold Maker is a Beetle-kinden who has been trying for his entire adult life to convince others that the Wasp-kinden are determined to rule the world. It has been seventeen years since Stenwold has been engaged in actual guerrilla warfare type battles with the Empire, instead he has been teaching in the Great University of Collegium and trying to train his students to go into the surrounding lands to spy on the Wasp soldiers and bring back information he can use to convince others that the Wasp Empire wants nothing except slaves and conquest. The word he is receiving now says that the Empire of the Wasp is about to make a strategic move and Stenwold, his ward Tynisa (Mantis-kinden), his niece Cheerwell Maker (Beetle-kinden), Prince Salma Dien (Dragonfly-kinden) and the apprentice artificer Totho (a mixed breed kinden) must go to the city of Helleron to marshal their forces to fight.

This author was able to keep something interesting happening throughout this entire book. Just meeting all the different types of kinden and learning what their Art was, their special ability which went with their insect heritage, was fascinating by itself. And yet Tchaikovsky kept the story moving, never stagnating, never bogging down simply by introducing new characters and moving favorite characters from one portion of this fantasy world to another. It was all extremely interesting. I am simply amazed at the thought which had to go into devising the world populated by Ant-kinden, Butterfly-kinden, Moth-kinden, Fly-kinden, Scorpion-kinden, and the list goes on. There is magic in the book, there is romance which is very well done, there is espionage, there is military strategy, there are battles fought with all the unusual implements invented by this author's fertile imagination. I absolutely loved it. Now, on to book two Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt). I know that there are definitely four books in the series and I've seen information that there may eventually be ten or more. All I know is that I'm ready to pick the adventure up again because Salma and Totho are just arriving in Tark and the Wasp-kinden are ready to attack. I must find out what happens next. By the way, I ordered this book from AmazonUK and I'm really glad I did. The cover of the edition released here is absolutely gorgeous, especially when you understand what the figure represents. The cover art for the U.S. release is not so good.
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on 9 July 2008
I picked up this book on a recommendation and I'm not disappointed. Its a fast-paced and interesting book with a good mix of characterisation and action. Nobody is truly good or truly bad, or even truly what they seem - even the "big bad guy" Thralic has admirable qualities, and the "good guy" mentor figure could be said to be a little without morals in a lot of his methods.

What makes it truly stand out is its setting, which throws out standard fantasy conventions in favour of the "kinden", humans who share some of the traits of insects (and can use "the Art" to manifest some of their physical characteristics). The Mantis=kinden are superlative lone warriors, the Spider-kinden are the well-known manipulators of the world, the hive-mind Ant-kinden are masters of warfare, and the list goes on. An industrial revolution has run roughshod over a near-medieval world, with ornithopters, lighter-than-air ships and curious gadgets.

A final thing worthy of note is the author's easy to read and erudite style.

You'll like this if:
- You enjoy action-packed, but intelligently plotted, stories.
- You enjoy a book that draws you in to twists and turns.
- You like different, exotic concepts built on a solid fantasy base.

You'll dislike this if:
- You don't like your fantasy without Elves and Dragons.
- You don't like technology in your fantasy.
- You prefer whiter-than-white heroes and linear plots.

This is a great book, and I am looking forward to the sequel.
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on 13 January 2012
I bought this book thinking that the writer was offering something a bit different from the usual fantasy fare. A world that has some develpoment of science and technology rather than the medieval Europe setting, races that share aspects with insects rather than elves and dwarves. I really wanted to like this book.
Unfortunately, the whole thing came across like one of those awful, limp Shannara books.
Both Tchaikovsky and Brooks have a very bland and shallow writing style. There's just no emotional connection to be made with the characters at all. Take Cheerwell Maker. She's an inexperienced, sheltered teen. Within the course of the story Che is nearly raped and nearly tortured but she might as well have had her hair pulled for all the emotional fallout she suffers from these traumatic events. It's also specifically mentioned that out of all the characters, she's the worst with a sword but before long, she's swinging it wildly, taking out battle hardened veterans with great ease. Stay within the character, mate!
Another character arc deals with Tynisa discovering who her real father is. At first we're told that she's angry, then they have a duel and everything is alright again. It just comes across as leaden and clunky.
There's also a lot of fight scenes in the book. Nothing wrong with that but they tend to be very detailed descriptions of every thrust and parry that happens but no real feeling of desperation, fear or anger that characters may be experiencing. Just thrust, parry, thrust, parry, stab, dead. For several pages.
There were glimmers of depth. Thalric, one of the bad guys, is committed to his empire and will do what is necessary to achieve it's goals but has some unease at the methods used showing him to be more than the evil for evil's sake cliched enemy, thankfully. However, he isn't exactly overcome with remorse for his actions so it's hard to feel any sympathy for him.
Like I said, I really wanted to like this book but it's so similar to Brooks(poor characterisation, bland descriptive style, undeveloped ideas and everthing in it is just a plot device anyway) that it's not worth reading anymore to see if it improves. Brooks never did.
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on 22 February 2013
very disappointed,complicated,hard to follow,too many characters.I have bought the first six books but never made it past page 100 of book 1.
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