Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review: Feast and Famine by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The initial collection of short stories from Adrian Tchaikovsky is a treasure. Weighing in at just under 200 pages, its contents are a set of short stories from a wide array of strands of fantasy, horror and SF from across the genres; and they shine. Tchaikovsky is best known for his monster of an epic fantasy series Shadows of the Apt, a (currently) nine book series of bricks charting an immense struggle in a steampunk influenced fantasy world, with a lot of insect influences (to my shame I have only just starting reading the first book of the series, despite being so late to get started, I'm very much enjoying it). Feast and Famine doesn't have the ambitious vision of Shadows of the Apt, but to be honest, it doesn't need it. There's enough here to keep the reader interested and the short stories provide slices, worlds that whirl in to entertain before they're gone again.

As you might expect there is a Shadows of the Apt story in Feast and Famine, but the bulk of the stories aren't even epic fantasy. Instead we're treated to small pleasures, featuring truly alien life forms in a genuinely hard science fiction story and a Cthulhu Mythos story that has nothing of the official mythos in it but still works though I should stress it's very much a fantasy piece, the conspiracy aspect is well wrought but there's little to scare the reader here.  In addition there are cautionary tales regarding the Rapture and the dangers of medical experiments. At every turn the stories have lovely twists, almost always taking the road less traveled and offering up surprise after surprise. I don't want to spoil too much but I loved the revelations concerning the nature of time travel and werewolves in particular.

The stories are all eminently readable, easy enough to read the entire collection in one sitting. Tchaikovsky's style is easy to get to grips with, he keeps you reading and doesn't shy away from contentious issues. The Roar of the Crowd in particular is a strong story, as is the Rapture; both of them make interesting points regarding the human condition, something that I love to see in fantasy fiction. The stories make strong connections to the real world, they feel as if they matter.

The Shadows of the Apt story deals with what I suspect is a shadow of the war; possibly only a footnote in the grand scheme of things. It's a strong story concerning a dragonfly prince on a mission to recruit an army, which has gone ever so slightly awry. Whilst I don't imagine many readers will be in my position, knowing only the sketchiest details of the series (I read Feast and Famine before I started Empire of Black and Gold), I can say that the story was accessible and made sense. It served as a good introduction to the main series, whetting the appetite to read more, indeed it spurred me to get off my arse and start reading the series.

Overall this is a lovely collection, the stories are well written and the characters well drawn. It's nice to see an author get to show off their strengths and that they don't just write one type of fiction. My sole complaint is that there's so little of it, cliched as that seems. I would urge you to pick up a copy.

Feast and Famine is out on the 30th August.

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