The Scarab Path
Book Five of the Shadows of the Apt
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Fantasy | 688 Pages | Published by Tor in 2010
| Rating |
I love Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Shadows of the Apt series has taken my breath away with each successive book. Tchaikovsky has created a universe which is truly unique; a universe in which insectoid human races vie for supremacy over one another in a rich and vibrant world. Every time I read another addition to the series, I can’t help but berate myself for leaving it on my bookshelf for so long before picking it up. The Scarab Path is no exception. After two long years of waiting I opened it up, read the first page and was once again drawn into a world of magic and artifice, of war and peace and a clash of cultures. I can’t believe I left it this long.
The Scarab Path continues the story of Cheerwell Maker of Collegium (self-effacing bumbling Beetle) and Thalric of Capitas (Wasp and erstwhile officer of the Rekef) following the events in Salute the Dark.
After an explosive conclusion to the war with the Wasp Empire, Cheerwell finds herself lost; lost in a city she once called home, lost in her grief, and suffering from another loss too great for any Beetle-kinden to comprehend. Determined to draw his niece from her reverie, Stenwold encourages Che to join a Collegium expedition of academics to the mysterious Beetle city of Khanaphes. An expedition which might just hold the answers to those questions which have been unsettling her mind, and an expedition where she might just find more than she was looking for.
Meanwhile, the Empress Seda is consolidating power in what remains of the Wasp Empire. Thalric, now Regent, finds himself at the mercy of this powerful and dangerous woman; a woman whose secrets are far darker and more deadly than anyone could imagine. Under the threat of assassination, Thalric must throw his loyalties to the wind (yet again) and escape from more than just the assassin’s blade. Finding himself in company with a deputation of wasps bound for Khanaphes, events conspire to bring both Che and Thalric together.
But the world has turned its eyes to Khanaphes. There are rustlings in the Scorpion held deserts of Nem and the wheels of the war machine are turning once again. Surviving an encounter with even a small contingent of the Wasp Empire is never simple, and with the Many of Nem at their backs (and fronts, and sides) things are about to get a whole lot more complicated. But the heart of Khanaphes holds a secret; an ancient and powerful secret hidden throughout the ages… and one which might just fight back.
The Scarab Path, like the books which precede it, creates a world so rich and varied that with every addition it becomes more real and tangible. By the time Tchaikovsky finishes this series, I may start believing it is real. His worldbuilding is outstanding; every culture is unique yet distinctly human in their isolated motivations – as though one facet of human emotion has been magnified tenfold and applied to a whole race of people. These people are the extremes; warriors, manipulative game players, artificers, cut throats and peacekeepers. The detail in which Tchaikovsky describes these distinctive cultures and the conflicts surrounding their lives is almost like he’s lifted an entire history from an alien world. Perhaps this is the true benefit of having a lengthy fantasy series, but few do it so well as Tchaikovsky.
And if his worldbuilding wasn’t brilliant enough, his characters are incredible. I love them, I hate them, I can easily go through the full range of emotions during an encounter with a Tchaikovsky book. They are so well written, so unique and infinitely relatable that each book can pick up a new set without diminishing the ones left out. Even small, sideline characters are given a touch of the Tchaikovsky magic and become real. Cheerwell is an incredibly endearing and lovable character, bumbling and stumbling into trouble at every opportunity; I’ve loved her from the very first encounter in Empire in Black and Gold. Thalric has also been one of my favourite characters since his Rekef days, a calculating liar and a manipulative antihero – and boy do I love a good antihero. The Scarab Path develops both these characters in a highly satisfactory way and firmly secured them as two of my favourites.
After the climactic events of Salute the Dark, I wasn’t sure how this story would develop, or even if it could develop without become a shadow of the other books. But who was I kidding, of course it could! I am not exaggerating when I say that every single book gets better, every one makes the world a little richer, a little more believable, and makes me love the characters even more. Tchaikovsky is a master of storytelling. The Scarab Path is a great addition to the series; I honestly can’t commend the entire Shadows of the Apt enough. I for one never want to see it end.