Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Reviewed by Stephen Aryan

This book marks the end of a significant chapter of the larger story, tying off a number of threads in a satisfying manner. There are still many to explore, and the cast of characters continues to grow as we continue to range further afield in the world with each new book.

salute-the-darkIn many ways this is a tragic book as a number of characters reach critical moments in their lives and, without giving away any spoilers, some characters rise to the challenge and others do not with varying consequences. In that regard the book is very realistic, as all of the characters are flawed and ultimately human. For example, for every act of bravery committed by a coward, the mask of heroism can only last for so long and eventually the truth will come out. So it is with the characters in this book as events have been put into motion and no amount of bravery or sacrifice can change them. In the hands of another author, a situation where a hero is faced a hundred enemies would be handled very differently, with a hero cutting a swathe and emerging without a scratch. Tchaikovsky is not as lenient with his characters and for all of the fantastical elements of the story, there is an underlying level of realism. When there are acts of bravery and heroism, they stand out and are feats to be remembered. There is a particular scene in the latter part of the book that I will remember for a long time, because it was a tipping point in the story, but more so because it was very poignant moment for two of the main characters.

Throughout the series there isn’t a single character who is impossibly virtuous and without flaws. All of them have moments of weakness and temptation, and it makes it easier to relate to them, even those I would loosely term villains, who are often more complex in their motivations than the main protagonists. Characterisation is a big thing for me, and to really enjoy a book I need a fair balance between characters, plot and world building, which Tchaikovsky has achieved in this book as he has throughout the series.

Certain events come to a head in Salute the Dark with a lot of unexpected consequences. There was never a moment when reading this book that I could predict how certain scenes were going to play out because any character could die at any moment. The Shadowbox is finally in the hands of Uctebri the Sarcad, the mysterious and very deadly magician who seeks to change not only the course of the Wasp Empire, but also the fate of his people. Meanwhile the Wasps are mustering for war on several fronts and we see how all of these battles play out, sometimes with horrifying results. Tisamon, Archaos, Salma and Totho have all reached crossroads in their lives and in Salute the Dark they all have large parts to play, shaping the course of the future for themselves and many others. As some characters prepare for war others seek to reclaim what was taken from them. Taki works hard to build a new alliance to take back her homeland while Stenwold embarks on an important journey to bring old friends into the conflict.

There are quite a few story threads but at no time did I feel the need to refer back to previous books to work out who the characters were or what was going on. They are all distinct enough that I could easily recall them, even if they did not appear in the previous book.

As mentioned this book ends one major chapter in the series, and in some ways it comes full circle. We revisit old friends and old places and by the end I thought Stenwold looked very old. Only a few years have passed since the Wasp Empire first struck the Lowlands and the rest of the Kinden finally woke up to the real danger, but Stenwold has been talking about this for a long time. Now he is a middle aged chubby man who has very few friends left alive that were there with him at the beginning. In that regard I felt as if Salute the Dark was the ending of an era, and that the fate of the Lowlands would rest more heavily on the shoulders of some of the younger characters. I am sure he will still be a major part of the story and a key player, but the landscape has changed. It’s no longer about warning people about the Wasp Empire and trying to build alliances to repel them. That was always Stenwold’s primary goal and he has achieved it more or less. By the end of the book the status quo has completely changed again, so I wonder if he can rise up to meet the new challenge and cope with a different set of demands that are placed on him. I see a lot of similarities between Stenwold and Winston Churchill, and I wonder if the parallels will continue in this series after Salute the Dark. Churchill was very popular during WWII as he was the right man to lead the country, but afterwards it did not go as well for him. Stenwold was given the title of War Master, but who will he become when the conflict ends and will the people still need him? And if not, can he find a new role for himself and continue to serve his people. Perhaps I am looking too deeply into the similarities, but these are just some of the questions I have about his fate and that of the other characters.

Adrian Tchaikovsky is not afraid to take risks and he makes some bold choices in this book. With spoiling it this book marks the end of some characters and while I don’t disagree with any of his decisions, I suspect there will be some who will lament the passing of favourites. However, in each case the death was important, significant, necessary or poignant because it changed nothing in some cases. Keeping a character alive because you like them or because they are popular with readers is a sin I have seen other authors commit in novels, and in particular on television. There is none of that here so prepare yourself for a few shocks.

Overall I found this a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read where all of the different plot threads held my interest equally. Sometimes when an author is juggling a number of story threads you can develop favourites, but I didn’t have one this time. All of them are critical on the local and global scale and although the next book marks a new chapter and a new direction in the story, I am very curious to see some of the fallout from events in Salute the Dark.

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