Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Book Review: The Tiger and the Wolf

I feel like I've been lazy in catching up with reviewing books here. It's not that I'm not reading much (I'm up to 12 so far this year, which isn't bad) but more that with a focus on study going on I've been reading more "comfort food" books, literary popcorn, if you like, and often can't think of much to say about it other than "yep, that was a book that I read". I'm looking at you, The Dresden Files series. I have, however, been saving Adrian Tchaikovsky's The Tiger and the Wolf until after my most recent exam, so I give some proper attention. Long-time readers (or listeners of Dissecting Worlds) will know I was a big fan The Shadows of the Apt series, and after a couple of stand alone novels that promise of another long-running series was something I was really looking forward to. Oh, and can we acknowledge that the cover  (left) is really impressive and striking too? 

Launching a series called "Echoes of the Fall", The Tiger and the Wolf shows many of the hallmarks of Tchaikovskys other work. It wears a number of different inspirations on it's sleeve, it's fast paced and accessible, fundamentally more interested in heroism than in darkness, and would be far too expensive to make into a TV show and make it's author rich and famous. As the first in a series, it's also trying to setup a work large enough to move forward with, and yet avoid drowning it's characters in exposition or leave you with the lack of resolution that can plague series openers. It's got a lot going on. 

It's also a book that answers that age old question - "Who would win, a Saber Toothed Tiger or a Velociraptor?" 

Much of the world building here unfurls through the eyes of it's two main characters, each travelling on physical and spiritual journeys through the book. This is a world where all the people have an animal soul they can "step" to. Maniye is a young girl growing up with a distant, abusive father and dead mother, in a small Wolf Community. Asmander is a young man send on a journey by his distant father to aid in a distant dynastic struggle, and carries both the soul of his people - Old Crocodile - and that of a "Champion", the soul of a mythic super-beast from before the age of Man. Much of what all this means comes out as the book runs, so I'll avoid too much detail, but suffice it to say that their paths cross and interwine as both take on their journeys through the Crown of the World. 

There is a mix of things going on through The Tiger and the Wolf, and it's to its great credit that they all work. Maniye's story edges close to some familiar YA tropes - what is my place in the world? who am I really? why don't parents love me and why can't have these other, cooler parent figures? - but she's a strong and well defined and likable. Asmander (and his team) have a fun dynamic, but remain slightly mysterious all the way through, leaving me to wonder if we're been setup for a longer trip to their culture in the future book. Even so they (like mostly everyone else) gets a solid emotional arc through the book which leaves you with a sense of resolution, even as we are being teed up for a longer franchise. 

As with most of Tchaikovskys work this is shot through with some dark themes, but he's author that feels to me like he's not hugely interested in hanging around in those darker spaces, and more interested in what brings out the better angels of his characters. This is a more savage world than the civilisation of the Lowlands in Shadows the Apt, and violence, death and worse lie close to the surface throughout. The book certainly has its fair share of overly confident cannon fodder waiting to get knocked down like an extra in a Jurassic Park movies, and certainly major deaths occur through the book, but they're good - or at least appropriate - deaths. 

In fact I think the only thing missing from this book is Giant Spiders, although after Children of Time I think I'm every so slightly grateful for that. There is a slight sign of predjudice against Rats, however, which will make my three Fancy Rats sad, but maybe there is a Fancy Rat People out there somewhere, just hanging out and wanting snacks and the occasional cuddle rather than subverting and destroying civilisations. But this is a confident start to a new world, and as he seems to write nearly as fast as I can read these books, I hopefully won't have too long to wait for the next one.