When Adrian Tchaikovsky’s massive Shadows of the Apt saga at last came to an end, I left it with very mixed feelings, having disagreed with some of the story-telling choices he had made toward the end. Nonetheless, I cannot deny he is an objectively good writer, and that Shadows of the Apt boasts one of the most intricate and impressive settings in the entire fantasy genre.
Thus, I did eventually find myself compelled to look into the short fiction collections set in that universe he has released since the end of the main series, titled Tales of the Apt. So far, there are three installments in this series: Spoils of War, A Time for Grief, and For Love of Distant Shores.
The first collection somewhat disappointed me. It mainly dealt with locations, cultures, and themes that were already well-explored in the main series, which seemed a waste of potential. We get it; Wasps are dicks.
The only highlight was the story of a disgraced Mantis-kinden Weaponmaster searching for her warrior’s death, a story perfectly calculated to appeal to my interests.
A Time for Grief was more impressive, though. It features a lot of new material surrounding settings and concepts that were not explored by the novels, including a very interesting delve into pre-history and the true origins of the insect-kinden. The title story also delves into the birth of the city-state of Princep Salmae, and feels important enough that I think it really should have been included in the main books somehow.
The third book, For Love of Distant Shores, was my favourite. It feels more like a full new novel, because while it is still technically a short story collection, it follows the same characters throughout.
For Love of Distant Shores tells of the travels of the absent-minded Beetle explorer Doctor Ludweg Phinagler (seriously) as he uncovers new knowledge, and mortal peril. Mostly peril. This serves as an opportunity to visit a number of areas and stories mostly or entirely new to the series, some of it truly fascinating.
However, Phinagler himself isn’t necessarily the focus. The stories are told via the notes of Fosse, his assistant, an acerbic and debaucherous Fly-kinden woman. More than anything else, Fosse is what makes For Love of Distant Shores worth reading. Her wry, cutting commentary is an absolute delight from beginning to end.
All of these stories seemed to be written with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the setting, so unfortunately I’m not sure I’d recommend the collections to those who haven’t already read Shadows of the Apt.
For those who have read the novels, I definitely recommend A Time for Grief and For Love of Distant Shores. Spoils of War is less memorable and probably only worth it for super fans, if that.