‘A Time for Grief’ is the second volume of short stories set in the world of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ten part epic, ‘Shadows Of The Apt’. Several characters from the series make appearances and we’re also introduced to a range of new people and places, too. The ‘Tales Of The Apt’ collections are loosely themed, with this one considering events mostly in peacetime rather than during the height of war, which was the focus of the first volume. It’s a strong collection and it’s difficult for me to pick out just a couple of stories to highlight in this review because the quality was fairly consistent. Having said that, there were some stories that I connected with more than others, so I’ll take a few paragraphs to tell you about those.
I have a confession to make here, which is that I’ve got a tendency to enjoy amateur theatre, so much so that I’ve actually co-founded a theatre company. That’s relevant because I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed ‘Queen Of The Night’ so much. This story tells us about an amateur theatre group who are going to put on the extremely rare full version of a Moth opera which is usually drastically shortened. Recruiting a very talented Moth lady to play the lead role, the company is excited about the performance until spooky occurrences plague the cast and they begin to realise that some things should be left undisturbed. This was not only enjoyable, because of my theatre connections, but also very nicely highlighted the lack of understanding that Apt kinden have when it comes to the magical abilities of the Inapt kinden. The Beetles were so out of their depth, when the performances started, to have a disturbing effect on their reality that it made the differences between them and the Moths very clear. I’ve always wished that we got to see more of the Moths and their abilities in the main series and this was probably my favourite story in the book.
Having enjoyed the main series so much, I was also delighted to see the return of Tisamon, a Mantis Weaponsmaster, in ‘Fallen Heroes’. He’s a bit of an enigmatic character throughout the books, driven by grief, honour and loyalty, so it’s interesting to see him here as killer for hire. He’s hired by a young Fly, who wants to get the gangs out of his neighbourhood so his parents can afford to pay the rent, but the Fly soon finds out that the gangs don’t play fair and ends up losing one of his heroes along the way. It’s quite a sad story, clashing the naivety of youth with the callous ways of hired killers and teaches us that heroes are sometimes only human after all.
Another character who sees a welcome return in this collection is the Butterfly woman currently known as Grief. She’s popped up as a slave, a devoted lover and a leader at various times in the main story arc and here, is in mourning, after the death of a loved one. Living in the newly founded city of Princep Salme, where corruption is rife and scheming businessmen are trying to gain control through rigged elections, Grief’s people need her. Yet, as she isolates herself in her mourning, she does not see what is happening around her and only the steadfast Ant, Balkus, has any hope of showing her before it’s too late for all the people she longs to protect. Another fairly emotional story here, exploring the nature of grief and corruption and, beyond all, reminding us to stand up and be counted because even one voice can make a difference.
Finally, I’ll mention ‘The Naturalist’ which is one of the more understated stories in the book. It tells us of a Beetle scientist who has discovered that Scorpion and Spider kinden are related. In his joy at this new scientific discovery, the Beetle fails to realise that sometimes the truth can do more harm than good. I liked this story for its simplicity. In just a few short pages, it manages to capture the essence of the Beetles – hardworking, devoted to science, often lost in their own research – and the Spiders – ruthless, efficient and manipulative people who only ever do things that benefit themselves. A simple but very effective tale!
The other stories in the collection are equally good and there wasn’t a single dud in there. You’ll probably get more out of these stories if you’ve already read the ‘Shadows Of The Apt’ series, but I also think they stand alone as a nice introduction to the world for beginners, too. I’ve been really enjoying these collections and am eagerly awaiting the next in the series which has just been released.
(pub: Newcon Press, 2017. 250 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-910935-46-0)
check out website: www.newconpress.co.uk