Review: Echoes of the Fall, book one: The Tiger and the Wolf

Nestled within the pages of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Tales of Apt short stories collection was a bit of a bombshell: It revealed that his other fantasy series, Echoes of the Fall, also takes place within the same world as Shadows of the Apt, merely on a different continent.

Cover art for Echoes of the Fall, book one: The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian TchaikovskyI’d ignored Echoes of the Fall until now, as it sounded a bit cliche, but now that I know it’s part of the Apt universe, the completionist in me compels me to check it out.

Book one, The Tiger and the Wolf, is a decidedly mixed experience. There is a lot I like about it, but also a lot that really bothers me.

The Tiger and the Wolf is mainly the story of Maniye Many Tracks, the miserable and abused daughter of the chief of the Winter Runner Wolf tribe. Maniye’s mother was the queen of the Tiger tribe, and her father hopes to use her to bring the Tiger under his control. Maniye herself bucks under his authority and finds herself torn between her twin heritages, the Tiger and the Wolf.

I’m willing to bet any long time fantasy reader involuntarily rolled their eyes a bit reading that. Yes, it as exactly as cliched as it sounds.

To be clear, Maniye is by a comfortable margin the worst thing about this book. She is a deeply uninspiring protagonist for reasons even beyond how unoriginal her story is.

My biggest issue with Maniye is that she is entirely reactive. She has no plan, no ambition beyond escaping her father. She spends the entire book reacting to the actions of other characters, usually by running away. She has no true agency; she does not drive the plot in any way.

Her meek attitude is perhaps best encapsulated by the subplot dealing with her twin souls. As a daughter of two tribes, Maniye has two souls — Tiger and Wolf — and they are at war within her. Eventually the conflict between them will drive her mad, so she has to choose one or the other, but she doesn’t want to.

And that’s it. She just doesn’t want to. It’s made clear that while half-breeds like Maniye are rare, they are hardly unheard of, and it is standard practice for such people to choose one soul or the other once they come of age. It’s a difficult and painful choice, but entirely doable. Maniye simply refuses to make the choice.

I get that both souls are crucial to her identity, and for her to find the choice painful makes sense, but when you try to wring a few hundred pages of drama out of the protagonist simply refusing to make a decision, you start wondering why you should even care.

If Maniye were the only character, this would not be a book worth reading. The good news is the rest of the cast is a lot stronger. Maniye recruits a number of allies along her journey, and they are all likable and interesting characters in their own right. It’s worth it for them.

One in particular is a standout. Unfortunately I can’t say much without spoiling things, but their story is both a genuinely surprising twist and one of the richest pieces of characterization I’ve seen in a long time. Not everyone in this book is who they seem to be at first glance.

The setting of The Tiger and the Wolf, like the cast, is a mixed bag.

As always, Adrian Tchaikovsky puts tremendous effort into his world-building. If I hadn’t already known this series shared a universe with Shadows of the Apt, I’d probably have guessed. The idea of the separate cultures based on totem animals is pretty much the same in both. The only difference is now it’s vertebrates instead of insects, and now instead of Ancestor Art each tribe can shapeshift into their totem animal.

Even if it feels a bit samey relative to Shadows of the Apt, it’s still a cool idea, and I like seeing how each tribe’s culture is influenced by the temperament of their totem, from the majestic cruelty of the Tiger tribe to the patience of the Crocodile Nation.

However, I do have one big problem with the cultures in this book: They’re all terrible. With only one apparent exception (the Horse Society), every single tribe and nation in this book seems to be built on human sacrifice, rape, cannibalism, slavery, and any other kind of brutality you care to name.

Given this setting is so obviously inspired by native American cultures, the fact that they’re all savages — there’s just no other word for them — feels more than a little problematic to me. Very surprising given what a progressive person I know Adrian Tchaikovsky to be.

Tales of the Apt raised the grim spectre of colonization by the insect-kinden, which seemed deeply chilling at the time, but honestly, after reading this book, I’m not sure I care. Tthere’s nothing the kinden could do to these people that would be any worse than what they do to themselves.

I will probably read the rest of this series, but it’s definitely a very inconsistent experience. It’s frustrating because with a few changes — a better protagonist, a few tribes that aren’t just brutal thugs — it could have been something truly special. As it is, it’s just okay.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

Limetown and Night Vale: From Audio to Print

There seems to be a lot of crossover between the world of audio and the world of print. Both of the podcasts I’ve become a fan of in recent times — Limetown and Welcome to Night Vale — have put out tie-in novels, and I figured it was time I gave them a read.

An official banner for the podcast drama LimetownWhen it comes to the podcasts, I think I still enjoy Limetown a little more than Night Vale (though it’s a very close race). But when it comes to the books, Night Vale is the decisive champion.

To be honest, I didn’t much enjoy Limetown’s novel at all. It doesn’t provide much insight into the conspiracies and intrigue that are the setting’s focus; instead, it mostly provides backstory for Lia Haddock and her uncle, Emile.

That’s not the worst idea in theory. A character study could still be interesting, even if it’s not necessarily what I’m looking for in a Limetown story. But it’s not even a very good character study.

In the podcast, Lia comes across as fierce and determined, but also warm and human. In the book, her determination comes across more as obsessiveness. She wants to solve mysteries not because she cares about the people involved — the book makes it very clear that Lia doesn’t care about anyone, at all — but simply because she has a deranged need to poke at any unanswered questions she finds.

Not only does it not make for an enjoyable book, it dampens my interest in the podcast, too. Part of what hooked me into Limetown was how much I loved Lia as a character, but the book kind of made me hate her.

By contrast, the Night Vale novel — while not without a few hiccups of its own — is a much better experience.

Official art for the audio drama Welcome to Night ValeShifting focus away from Cecil, Night Vale’s print incarnation focuses on two ordinary citizens of Night Vale: Diane Crayton, PTA member and single mother of a teenage shapeshifter, and Jackie Fierro, a pawn shop operator who has been nineteen years old for an indeterminate number of decades.

The more detailed perspective of a book makes the surrealism of Night Vale a bit harder to swallow at times, but once you readjust to an even greater sense of weirdness than the podcast provides, it’s a good read. It’s got the same humour as the podcast, and I found myself audibly cracking up on nearly every page.

The thing that’s really impressive about this book — that’s also true of the podcast to some extent — is how real the characters and their struggles can feel. Once you get past the carnivorous insectoid librarians and wheatless deconstructed croissants, this is a very down to earth story of family struggles that is deeply relevant to our own world. Having dealt with some of the issues this book brings up in my own life, I can confirm that the characters and their struggles feel very authentic and relatable.

I do think the ending could have been more conclusive, and you definitely have to be careful about when you read this book relative to where you are in the show (I unintentionally spoiled myself, as I read the book before I’d caught up to when it was released), but even so the Night Vale novel definitely gets my recommendation.

I wouldn’t bother with the Limetown one. It’s not worth your time.