This month we publish War Master's Gate, the ninth book in Adrian Tchaikovsky's magnificent Shadows of the Apt fantasy series. To celebrate the penultimate book in this series, we asked Adrian to answer a few questions and talk us through his series. Scroll down to read an extract. And warning, contains spoilers!
1) This is the ninth book in your Shadows of the Apt series – how have you found writing such a long-running and involved series?
Looking back over something approaching 2,000,000 words (taking into account next year’s Seal of the Worm) it seems as though it should have been considerably more difficult, like trying to care Everest into a life-size statue of Godzilla or something. In the end I think it really was just one of those one-foot-in-front-of-the-other jobs. If I’d sat down at the start with the sure and certain knowledge that the plan called for me to produce all of that, I suspect I’d never have got past midway book 1.
On a technical side, I’ve worked very hard to give each book its own plot arc, and so hopefully make the whole series more digestible. Although there are larger arcs at work (books 1-4 / books 5, 6 and 7 as semi-standalone / books 8-10), every volume has its story, its cast, its denouement. Except the baggage accumulates, and the stories are sequential, so that although The Scarab Path, say, has its own relatively closed storyline, you can’t really get into it without having read the previous books (because it’s Che’s story, and the Che we see in that book is very much shaped by her losses from the previous one). Similarly, what Che discovers about the city of Khanaphes in that book is important for later books too.
This worked pretty seamlessly until I came to Heirs of the Blade, book 7, when everything kind of crunched. Tynisa’s little journey of self-discovery also turned out to be the place where a lot of the earlier plots tied off, and where I had to foreshadow the Empire’s rise in book 8. Heirs got written and re-written and chopped and changed, and had an entire subplot cut out, just to make it work.
2) Who is your favourite character and why?
I suppose I should say Tisamon or Stenwold or Che, or maybe Thalric, as he’s always fun to write, teetering on the edge of anti-hero as he still occasionally does. Having said that, the batch of new characters in Collegium who were introduced in Air War and play a major role in War Master’s Gate have been a very pleasant breath of fresh air, and a very useful change of perspective. As Stenwold Maker has gone from revolutionary to reactionary, twisting the politics of Collegium to conform to his beliefs, it’s useful to have the “new class” to show us that he’s not universally admired – or even that perhaps he isn’t even right. The team of Eujen, Gerethwy, Averic and Straessa the Antspider are all firm favourites with me, as are a number of the hangers on they bring with them, such as the drunken artist Mummers, te Mosca the Fly magician and lecturer, and Gorenn the one-woman “Commonweal Retaliatory Army” – the latter of whom is an Inapt Dragonfly warrior trying to fight the entire might of the Wasp Empire with a bow and arrows. And coming alarmingly close to winning on occasion.
Then there are the characters who just come out of the woodwork without ever being planned, and the greatest of these is Varsec. Varsec is technically in Blood of the Mantis, although I didn’t know it at the time. He’s an officer involved in the taking of Solarno, and it was his plan to coordinate the aerial assault using the rare Mindlinked Wasps – an Art that they don’t have, very much, and that (we find out in Air War) was pretty much hunted to extinction by the Rekef a generation before. We first actually meet Varsec in Heirs, when he teams up with another holdover Imperial to put together the technological breakthroughts that the Empire then exploits in Air War. And he goes from strength to strength, and has a major role to play in Seal of the Worm, and none of it was planned at all. The character just found a niche and cut it wider and wider until he went from just a name to a major player.
3) The Seal of the Worm, the tenth and final book, will be coming next year. Can you tell us a little about it?
Not a great deal, as it involves the fallout of a major twist from the end of War Master’s Gate. However, we have already heard mention of ‘the Worm’ – in fact as early as Salute the Dark when the Monarch of the Commonwealth mentions them, all of which is echoed by Che in Heirs. In Air War we hear quite a bit more, that places them as some sort of vanished evil that the Moth-kinden did their best to scrub out of the history books. In Gate we get our first glimpse of them and find out what actual kinden is being talked about, although the true unpleasantness of them – why, in a world with murderous Mantis and blood-drinking Mosquito-kinden, it was them the Moths felt the need to redact – will mostly come out in the last volume. And those characters who survive the vicissitudes of Gate will all and each of them get put through the wringer one last time, every one to their own personal test, heroes and villains alike (and I hope, by now, the distinction isn’t quite so easy to draw).
4) Many of your characters have insect totems, if you could choose a totem, what would it be and why?
Tough call. None of the more glamorous ones offer a particularly simple life. One of the jobs that Gate hopefully does is show just why the answer isn’t “Mantis”, because it’s no fun being the ancient inheritors of an age-old warrior tradition in a world where everyone else has a gun, no matter how much you go Bruce-ing the Lee and Wu-ing the Tang. The Wasps – I shouldn’t have a sneaky fondness for my Wasp characters, but I do – are bad guys, the Ants are – well, if you’ve ever felt like a fifth wheel, how much worse if everyone else immediately knew it? The renegade, Balkus (another minor character who clawed his way to hero status – he’s kind of the Wedge Antilles of Shadows of the Apt, and makes a strong return in Gate.) shows how little fun it is being the ant who sticks out. Fly-kinden get, if you’ll pardon the wording, the short end of the stick wherever they live, and Spiders are their own worst enemies most of the time. I honestly think that the answer is the Beetle-kinden. Because they’re survivors, and they make the best of everything. They might be a nation of shopkeepers in Collegium, but the Vekken and the Empire have both discovered that if you go poke them, they’ll sell you their ammunition wholesale, and sharp end first. The defence of the city against the Ant assault in Dragonfly Falling really brought that home to me, because although you had Stenwold and Balkus and Kymon (blimey – remember him?) running around on the walls, the real heroes were all those others, all the artificers and academics and citizens. The Collegiate spirit – which is built on Beetle backs – is a character all of its own in the books, and like all good characters it has an arc. How much can the Beetles take, faced with the relentless fury of Wasp aggression? Immoveable object vs unstoppable force? Or will one give?
Click here to read an extract from War Master's Gate
Praise for Shadows of the Apt
‘A novel brimming with imagination and execution’
‘Epic fantasy at its best. Gripping, original and multi-layered storytelling
from a writer bursting with lots of fascinating ideas’
‘Superb world building, great characters and extreme inventiveness’
‘Adrian is continuing to go from strength to strength. Magic’
‘Reminiscent of much that’s gone before from the likes of Gemmel,
Erikson, Sanderson and Cook but with its own unique and clever
touch, this is another terrific outing from Mr Tchaikovsky’
‘I still cannot deny the greatness of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s books . . .
a glorious success of fantasy literature’
‘Tchaikovsky’s series is a pretty great one – he has taken some
classic fantasy elements and added a unique (as far as I’m aware)
twist and element to his characters and the world . . . Tchaikovsky
has created a world that blends epic fantasy and technology’
‘Tchaikovsky manages to blend these insect characteristics with
human traits convincingly, giving a fresh slant to the inhabitants of
his classic tale’