Dragonfly Falling – Adrian Tchaikovsky

From Publishers Weekly: 

Tchaikovsky returns to the caste-haunted insect-themed world of 2010’s Empire in Black and Gold, as the inapt kinden realize that their natural gifts and old knowledge are no longer sufficient to allow them to dominate their apt cousins, who can use technology. The Wasp kinden have been slowly conquering the land for three generations, and the people of the Lowlands are finally waking to the danger that confronts them. As Wasps threaten Collegium, a city of innovators and a rallying point for Lowland resistance, the diverse protagonists struggle to salvage what they can, unleashing forces beyond their control. The story will be recognizable to anyone familiar with modern fantasy (or even the Persian invasion of Greece), but Tchaikovsky’s setting is innovative, the characters are engaging, and the battles are epic. 

To read my review of Empire in Black and Gold, click here

I’m quite torn about this book. I tried to read it twice before I actually buckled down and got it done. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. I guess it’s more because I have some conflicting issues with the overall novel more than anything else. The problem is, I realize that there are a lot of reviews online already which rave about how wonderful this book is and I feel bad that I just can’t join that list. As always, I will try to review this book as comprehensively as possible without giving away the plot.

Dragonfly Falling is the second book in Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series. A lot of what I complained about in Empire in Black and Gold seems to be more or less ironed out here. There were no confusing perspective changes. Tchaikovsky has seemed to iron out his writing style so it’s far less clunky. Where Tchaikovsky has fixed those two problems, which bothered me far more than I let my blog know, other problems seem to abound.

This is another book, like Empire in Black and Gold that I read because of the unique world more than anything else. Tchaikovsky really has created a remarkable world which absolutely captivated me. In Dragonfly Falling he introduces some new kinden to the mix, like mosquito-kinden and some unique half-breeds. His incredibly unique world really should be remarked upon. My problem is this, though. If you read a book, shouldn’t you be reading it for plot and not just world buidling?

The plot still isn’t unique. It’s still Stenwold and his unlikely troop against the world, though admittedly the balance did start shifting in Dragonfly Falling. The war is spreading and yes, there are some epic blood-pumping battle scenes. Interspersed in this action is plenty of unexpected plot twists that will keep the reader hanging on. Tchaikovsky also has set up his characters in such a way that makes me wonder what he is planning with them in future books of the series. New characters and lands are introduced as the author takes his time to slowly expand his plot and world for the reader.

While Tchaikovsky’s world and plot are obviously, slowly expanding, some of his characters I truly enjoyed in the first book fell amazingly flat in this book. One example I would use was Thalric, who lost almost all of his color and became almost predictably “evil.” Drephos, the colonel-auxilian, is an interesting, multi dimensional character who is pretty much abhorred by everyone and has somehow managed to make a niche for himself in the Wasp Empire. Drephos seemed to balance out where Thalric failed.

Some of the characters I truly enjoyed from the first book drove me nearly insane in this one. Stenwold, for example, is a man who needs to involve himself in some sort of hobby.  While I can understand the one-man-against-the-world idea (after all, that’s not unique to Tchaikovsky), Stenwold is almost boringly devoted to his ideals to the point where they absolutely consume him. Stenwold, simply put, is nothing but his ideas in Dragonfly Falling. There truly is nothing else to him. Totho, who I enjoyed in Empire in Black and Gold, had some interesting things happen to him in this book which make me wonder what happens to him in further books. However, his nearly constant whining made me feel like I was on a road trip with a PMSing thirteen-year-old girl. Che and Tynisa, two more characters I really enjoyed, were almost background characters bled colorless in every sense of the word.

This book is driven by constant action. If the characters aren’t immersed in epic battle scenes or fighting with angry soldiers they are running and hiding from impossible situations. There are several, in my estimation, plot cop outs where the characters are saved by completely improbable means, like an assassin having a spontaneous change of heart at the perfect moment. 

While I did enjoy this book, and I’ve read that further books in the series are much better and much more unique than this one, I personally feel like I’ve read the overall gist of Dragonfly Falling about a hundred times. I am sad that the only thing unique between the covers is the Tchaikosky’s world. Tchaikovsky did set the plot up in such a way that it can pretty much go anywhere in future books of the series. The unpredictability of future books does intrigue me. His characters are mostly at very interesting plot points.

Dragonfly Falling raises a lot of questions it doesn’t ever really answer leaving the reader plenty of open room to speculate not only on the plot but also on, in certain situations, where the true evil lies. This book is, by no means, a mindless read but I’d consider it a comforting one. By and large, good and evil are already laid out for you. The plot is nothing new, it’s easy to embrace the destructive empirical force behind all of the drama and it’s easy to cheer for Stenwold and his hodge-podge group. Tchaikovsky’s world remains fascinating and his writing has ironed out. Dragonfly Falling is an example of work where he has really hit his stride.

3.5/5 stars

5 Responses

  • PeterWilliam

    I've been sitting on this author for a while, although I've three of his books in the stacks. Another point for Tchaikovsky.

  • Liviu

    I disagree a bit about Thalric – once the Empire is at war and his self-image being as a devoted servant of it, he kind of has no choice but to do what he was doing, though of course he is repaid by being cast off and all, so he hits rock bottom.

    As the author hinted in his interview and the further volumes (up to 5) attest in which he is a main character in all, he is probably the author's favorite character.

    Looking back on this one – I have just reread it two days ago since I loved so much Scarab Path I had to reread books 2-5 before I could leave its universe, so I spent the last week immersed in the Kinden world despite 3-4 new asap books yelling to be read – and I realized that outside the narrative problems with pov switching that get solved from book 3 on, the main weakness is that nobody important dies despite all the battles; one more grace book for the characters but from book 4 on, no more mercy…

  • Jeff C

    While I liked the book a bit more than you did, I agree it is the weakest of the 3 so far (reading the 4th in the next couple of weeks). If you stick with it, I think you will like the next one a good bit more.

  • Sarah

    Sorry it took me so long to write ya'll back. I've been really busy today.

    Liviu, I can see your point about Thalric, and perhaps I was a bit too harsh in this review. He was one of my favorite characters from EiBaG and I think he seemed to sag a bit in this book.

    I have heard that this series gets REALLY good, and I read your review (Liviu), which sang the praises of the last book so I plan on continuing on. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this book immensely, I just didn't feel that there was much incredibly unique in it besides the world (which I'm completely in love with). Tchaikovsky's writing is really good, as well. He did suck me into the book, I just was disappointed with how some of my favorite characters changed.

    However, that being said, I think this book was more of a "set up" book than anything else. It seemed like Tchaikovsky has really managed to put his characters in very interesting places and left a lot open in the plot to drag me back again and see what happens next.

    I plan on continuing on. I did enjoy this book, but I did also feel like there were flaws, though the points made were good ones. Perhaps I was a bit too harsh in this review, and I apologize.

  • Liviu

    I liked the review and i thought it fair. My point about Thalric is that the author sets him deliberately so and this book is his nadir.

    I was a bit shocked how quietly vehement the author was about Thalric in the interview I've done with him after Blood Mantis, so I was definitely not surprised at what happened afterward.

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