#CBR4 Maneuver #25 – Salute the Dark
Profile: Alternative Fantasy, Steampunk, Epic Fantasy
Summary: From the back cover, “The vampiric sorcerer Uctebri has at last got his hands on the Shadow Box and can finally begin his dark ritual – a ritual that the Wasp-kinden Emperor believes will grant him immortality – but Uctebri has his own plans for both the Emperor and for the Empire.
The massed Wasp armies are on the march, and the spymaster Stenwold must see which of his allies will stand now that the war has finally arrived. This time the Empire will not stop until a black and gold flag waves over Stenwold’s own home city of Collegium.
Tisamon the Weaponsmaster is faced with a terrible [future]: a path that could lead him to abandon his friends and his daughter, to face degradation and loss, and probably bring him before the Wasp Emperor with a blade in his hand – but is he being driven by Mantis-kinden honor, or manipulated by something more sinister?”
After Action Report:
This review contains some minor spoilers.
Salute the Dark brings the first major story arc of Shadows of the Apt to a conclusion. The book is so final it could easily be confused for the end of the series. Protagonists die off left and right, and plotlines get resolved or shoved under expositional carpets. But because none of the major arcs are really resolved, there is a real sense of dissatisfaction coming from the final chapters. The Wasps are still there, stopped for the moment but far from beaten. The Emperor’s quest for immortality ended with many questions unanswered and a mess of major antagonists dead. And Thalric changed sides four or five more times.
The book catches up with our heroes a few weeks from the end of Blood of the Mantis, and establishes a somewhat annoying pattern of Tchaikovsky resetting his protagonists to Collegium before sending them out again. Taki, a PoV addition to the cast in Mantis, literally gets to Collegium and immediately turns around to go help free her city without so much as a bag of gold from her new allies. She does get help from the Spiderlands, but they’re right next to where she started, so I really don’t understand what that was for. The rest of the protagonists disperse, as per usual, this time to undo all the messes they made in Mantis, with the notable exception of Salma who has not only regained his PoV character status, but become a pivotal figure in the guerrilla campaign against the Wasp armies.
Salute the Dark walks a middle ground of complexity, featuring more plotlines than Mantis but fewer page-eating battles than Dragonfly Falling. The pacing and plot interweaving are actually quite good, but the plots themselves leave something to be desired. The cast get shuffled around between ongoing actions a bit, which is refreshing but also a bit confusing. There’s also a fair bit of obvious storyline issues where the foreshadowing is too heavy or Tchaikovsky wasn’t genre savvy enough to disguise the intended ending.
It’s a bit overly simplistic, but Salute just isn’t as good as the high points in the series; namely Empire in Black and Gold and Blood of the Mantis. This is somewhat worrying because Mantis probably wasn’t supposed to be great. It was a filler novel designed to fix problems with the greater narrative. Tchaikovsky has also closed off a bunch of his potential story arcs, both by killing off protagonists and prematurely ending the mystery of the Shadow Box. Admittedly there is some wiggle room built into the dénouement and at least one of the casualties might not be as dead as we were led to believe, but the overall feel of Salute is one of stagnation. The ideas that been dominating the major story arcs were abandoned and nothing was provided to get the reader excited for the next book, let alone the rest of the ten book series.
To make matters worse, Pyr books, the U.S. publisher responsible for importing the series, has yet to option the 6th or 7th novels, indicating either a failure to sell or a loss in confidence in the series. Given that Tchaikovsky’s track record is now two and two in my book, I suspect the latter. It all comes down to me not really wanting to recommend Salute the Dark. At the same time, the series continues its excellent world building and intriguing concepts. There is something worthwhile here and I can only hope that the rest of the series improves for the second major arc.