Book Reviews

Mantis, Mosquito, and Moth…Oh My?

Or Why Racial Diversity is so Important in a Story

For a little over three years during my middle school years I found myself living in Germany. My dad was in the military and was stationed in a little town outside Nuremberg. The military is a well-known melting pot for the racially diverse. Any military brat knows a person is not judged by their color or sex but by how well they perform under stress and as a team.

Back in the States I was not as racially exposed as overseas. In high school I found myself among other white teenagers. Even though I lived in San Antonio where those of Hispanic culture abound I didn’t find myself experiencing a rich cultural diversity in school. I look back at those two years in an overseas high school (there was no middle school) as the best of times of all my school years.

From the handsome pair of African-American boys all the girls went gaga over to the smart Asian tutors to the exotic Hispanic girls who whispered secrets behind my back it was the diversity of the school that made those years so rich and fascinating.

The Same is True For a Fantasy Book Series!

For a fantasy series the most important aspect in developing the story is the world in which a writer’s character acts and lives. If the world works much of the audience can overlook almost any flaw. For the Shadows of the Apt series this is very much the case. ((Shadows of the Apt is a ten book series, written by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I’m commenting on book one: Empire in Black and Gold and book two: Dragonfly Falling.))

Tchaikovsky Book 1 and 2 Covers

The world itself is rather intriguing, mixing what can be called magic with that of an industrial nature. Many are fans of this kind of world, populated with guns and machines but also layered with swords, walled cities and beings who linger even after death. Making this kind of contradictory world work though is not often successfully done. Tchaikovsky with his slant on insects characterizing his world’s races successfully carries off this industrialized magical world.

A rich history acts as background for the current conflict. Magic has been pushed to the fringes and now industry reigns. The beetles are central to this as they are the ones who overthrew the moths and their mantis mercenaries. Now here come the wasps ready to further the beetles civilizing influence by using their machines and weapons to bring every kinden under one flag. Though these two books are centered around certain kinden there are really no boundaries when it comes to other lurking insect tribes. That’s what makes the world feel so rich and developed. The spiders are actually kept out of the whole conflict for the most part but there are definitely possibilities put out in Dragonfly Falling of their potential to expand on the wasp problem.

The characters I listed in my companion post are only the main characters. Between Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling there was a whole cast of secondary characters that enriched the story and picked up the slack for the story centered ones. These secondary characters make the series worth the effort and what kinden they are plays a major part in this fact.

Tisamon is pivotal as Sten’s college friend, a Mantis-kinden Weaponmaster and Tynisa’s father, but most of all he’s the epitome of the strong, silent type. We meet him after everyone and everything has been presented. He slips in much as he does as a weaponmaster and hits one upside the head. His claw is perhaps the most fascinating of weapons and I craved right from the start knowing more about him and his weapon. As the strong, quiet, background kind of figure he really couldn’t play a role of main character unless the writer was prepared to really let him play a good part of a point of view character. I think he worked as well as Thalric because of the conflict developed due to believing his lover, whom he betrayed the Mantis code for, betrayed him and the rest of their friends but then finding out she didn’t. His kinden really played a huge part in his character conflict and that’s what makes him really pop.

Uctebri is a mosquito-kinden, the last of his kind, who is manipulating the emperor to gain power. Just an introductory character for the larger series arc, this slave to the Empire is perhaps enriched by his uniqueness. Besides his ability to suck blood, as all mosquitoes, is his ability to halt time so he can converse with the emperor’s sister. His desire for the heart of the Darakyon adds to his mystery. His hatred for the emperor adds dimension to his character and makes you want to root for him, at least to a point. Again cornerstone to the success of the character is his kinden and the conflict it creates in his situation.

Achaeos is a Moth-kinden magician and perhaps the character I fell in love with first, much like Che did. The moths are mortal enemies to the beetles but a beetle saved his hide. He helped me come to love Che as he started to fall for her as well. Right from the get go his story arc and group conflict came from his moth roots. You started to root for him right away when he went against his race and left to help this beetle girl. He even bought knowledge from ancient places of his people for her. For some it might seem rather contrived he let himself be bound with beetles this way but I think Che and his initial meeting supports his actions from that point on.

A World in Conflict with Itself Creates the Best Characters

If you noticed one commonality between the three characters I chose to expand on it’s that they all share a deeply rooted conflict that is at the heart of their character and the plot surrounding them. The real secret to a good character is simple…conflict. Whether lions, tiger and bears or mantises, mosquitoes and moths conflict with their environment is cornerstone to their character. As a writer, if you can use a character’s world to develop naturally rising conflict all the better to pull a reader in. By developing kinden to populate his world Tchaikovsky hit upon the best kind of draw for his series.

Those two years in an overseas school were also a rather conflictal time in my life when I was bullied, sexually harassed and had to rise to the occasion and defend myself. Whether as a writer or just a lover of a well executed piece of media it’s essential that a work come from a place rich in culture, diversity and conflict whatever form those might take. Some books you read for character, some for plot. In Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling a reader can immerse themselves in a world populated by characters as real and as conflicted as the readers themselves.

As a child were you fascinated by insects? Are good battle scenes worth the brand new price tag for a book? Do you find the conflicts in your life make you a better, more fascinating individual? Are you a lover of fantasy or sci-fi genres?
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