I have met Adrian at a number of Fantasycons and as well as being a gifted and intelligent writer, he is also a really nice man. He is also on something of a roll – 2015 saw the publication of his acclaimed magic and musket standalone book, Guns of the Dawn, which is right at the top of this year’s TBR list, as well as his awesome science fiction trendsetter Children of Time – see my review here.
In the bleak northern crown of the world, war is coming. Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She can’t disown half her soul, so escapes – with the killer, Broken Axe, in pursuit.
This epic fantasy is set in a wonderful world, where humans are shapeshifters according to the tribe they’ve been born into. But Maniye’s father had captured and raped her Tiger Queen mother and after Maniye was born, had her murdered by Broken Axe. Maniye has spent her childhood shunned by the other children in the Wolf clan, who sense the Tiger within her. While she has been constantly harried and beaten by the clan Elders for her difference.
When matters finally come to head as Maniye’s father puts in place the next part of his long-term plan, using his half-cast daughter as a pawn in bringing the remnants of the Tiger clan under the rule of the Wolves, she flees. And this action-packed coming-of-age adventure is all about what befalls Maniye as she desperately tries to work out her own destiny within the Crown-of-the-World – the sprawling northern wilderness intersected by a network of rivers, marshlands and forests, all divided within the various clan tribes.
As with his Shadow of the Apt fantasy, Tchaikovsky has woven a richly textured world, brimming with difference and complexity. I love Maniye’s dogged determination and the entirely plausible way in which her desperate rebellion against her father’s wishes acts as a catalyst. As she flees, she sets in motion a chain of events that undermines the current political structure, while she also encounters a rich cast of characters that also bounce off the page with their vividness. My personal favourites are the old Serpent priest, Hesprec and the grumpy slave, Venater, who is an unwilling visitor to this cold northern land as he accompanies his master on a vital mission from the south.
Another outstanding character is Broken Axe, the cold-blooded killing hand of Maniye’s ambitious father. It always raises the stakes when an antagonist is fully realised as a driven, clever character with his own agenda, other than to be ‘evil’. For no one is the baddie within his own lifestory, which is a concept Tchaikovsky thoroughly understands. I also love his trick of producing unintended consequences – it’s the narrative engine of his generational ship adventure, Children of Time – and while there are other major themes interweaving throughout this epic fantasy, Maniye’s story is a classic example of a plan gone awry. As for the climax – it’s a doozy. I stayed in bed far longer than I planned to find out what happened.
You may have gathered that I love this story and you’d be right. It soaked into my imagination such that I dreamt of the world and Maniye’s adventures, which doesn’t happen all that often. If your taste runs to well constructed, character-led epic fantasy, then track this one down. It’s worth it. My advance copy of the book came from Netgalley in return for an honest review.