Shadows of the Apt is a fantasy series by Adrian Tchaikovsky (real name: Adrian Czajkowski). The basic plot is fairly familiar- a single visionary must persuade his people of the imminent threat from a rapacious, conquering empire- the main twist is the idea of the insect-kinden; all humans inherit powers based on the idealised abilities of a particular arthropod.The books (so far) include:
Empire in Black and Gold (2008)
Dragonfly Falling (2009)
Blood of the Mantis (2009)
Salute the Dark (2010)
The Scarab Path (2010)
The Sea Watch (2011)
Heirs of the Blade (2011)
The Air War (2012)
War Master's Gate (2013)
Seal of the Worm (2014)
The website also contain loads of short stories and histories based in the same world.
All of the Slug-kinden of Khanaphes. They actually have the stones to back up their claims though.
Empress Seda and her hunger for recognition of her power.
All There in the Manual: Quite a bit of back story and History of the Lowlands can be found on the Shadows of the Apt website, along with other short stories based in that world.
Quite a few of the characters/ events from the short stories are woven into the main plot. The duel in Ironclads is brought up more than once in Heirs of the Blade (and the ghost story Avaris tells is most likely to be the same story as The Dreams of Avaris)
Arbitrary Skepticism: Che knows that people can gain powers through meditation, among them telepathic hive minds, ultraviolet vision, wings, and the ability to shoot energy from your hands. She initially refuses point blank to believe in "magic." In fact, nearly all Apt characters fall into this category.
This is because magic works in an entirely diferent way to 'Art' as noted when she noticed something off about Stenwold's agent in Helleron, whereas the people in this world can identify something as an 'Art' immediately even if they haven't seen it before.
In addition, it is stated on the blog of the author that everyone has basically outgrown the silly superstitions of religion. The Inapt believe in spirits but only the ones that can be commanded, not worshipped.
And Then What?: What Thalric says to his would-be assassin in Dragonfly Falling.
The Atoner: In Salute the Dark, Tisamon sees himself as an Atoner, although the main thing he's atoning for would, to most people, seem like a good thing- but Mantids mate for life...
Author Appeal: Tchaikovsky is something of an entomology fan. It shows.
Badass: The Mantis-kinden, and Tisamon in particular. Thalric does himself justice as well; while he doesn't have the combat prowess of the Mantis-kinden, he gives a good account of himself in fights and happliy roams about behind enemy lines without too much difficulty.
Badass Army: An army of one thousand Mantis-kinden from Felyal doesn't quite live up to their boasts- they said they'd be able to kill the whole of the 20,000-strong Imperial Fourth Army. They only got three quarters of them before the rest fled.
Badass Labcoat: Sort of; Stenwold and Totho both wear their artificing gear (Heavy leather clothes, fireproof aprons, tough gloves etc.) rather than armour in the first few books because firstly they are artificers before warriors, and secondly because none of the guards would pay attention toan artificer looking for work in an imperial city. Infact, during the siege of Collegium the city's defence was upheld by a last-minute militia that was equipped with what poor reserves the city had. After that each man woman and child grabbed whatever could be used in a fight. Seeing how the local residents are mostly artificers... You get the idea
Barehanded Blade Block: Used rather well in Empire in Black and Gold. Colonel Ulther attempts it (and gets his arm cut open for his troubles) when fighting Thalric, a few pages before Tisamon's duel with Tynisa, in which he pulls off the same trick, thereby reinforcing his badassitude.
Black Magic: While magic is not inherently bad, it is said that there are couple truly bad magic. The Darakyon ritual and the blood magic Mosquito-kinden utilizes in general
A lot of foreshadowing is happening with the prophecy that Stenwold hears from the monarch of the Commonweal and towards the end of the Heirs of the Blade with what Che says about the crest of worms while she was in a trance like state
Blind Seer: Subverted by the Moth-kinden; they are all Seers and magicians, but rather than being blind they can see better than any other race with their Art for being able to see in the dark. Crosses over with Prophet Eyes (See below).
Blood Knight: Tisamon is one in Helleron where he fights continuously, still wounded over the long past hurt and taking it out the only way he can.
In Salute the Dark It's Tiasmon again, anguished over his "betrayal" of Atryssa willingly lets himself be captured by the Wasps as a gladiator slave to get a chance to kill the Emperor as a form of redemption
Blood Magic: Well obviously you have the whole Mosquito kinden utilizing blood for their magic.
Due to their influence Empress Seda seems to be doing pretty much the same. Except that it seems to have a uncontrollable hunger vibe compared to the Uctebri's controlled hunger
In Salute the Dark, Stenwold hears a prophecy from the Monarch of the Commonweal and how there's blood coming out from the ground and in addition in the Sea Watch Stenwold then hears a similar prophecy of blood coming out from the lands, that will spill into the sea and consume it. Things aren't looking too bright in the insect-kinden world.
Cartwright Curse: Both Stenwold Maker and his niece Che believe themselves to be bad luck for others.
The Cavalry: Many examples, especially in Dragonfly Falling once with the Spider reinforcements arriving at Collegium to break the siege; and then twice at the Battle of the Rails, first with the Moth and Mantis army arriving to aid the Sarnesh, and second with Totho arriving with snapbows to save the Wasps and create a victory for the Empire.
It is occasionally mentioned that Totho is always carrying his "project" on his back, apparently a prototype for a weapon he has designed. This becomes important when Achaeos notices that Totho hasn't had it since they left Myna and realises that this is because he actually left with Salma and the Totho with them is a doppelganger. Totho's weapon later falls into the hands of the Empire and his Snapbow is put into mass production, leading to a last minute Wasp victory at The Battle of the Rails. The allied Lowlanders then nearly tear themselves apart trying to create their own snapbows while preventing their allies/ rivals from doing the same.
Stenwold's Piercer bow makes a reappearance in Salute the Dark for a while as well.
And then again in 'The Air War', where it was literally hanging on the wall before being used.
Nero. Later in the series, the entire race of Mosquito-kinden turn out to be not so mythical!
Just read the lore sections of the author's website and the date posted. Dude's been planting Chekhov's mines everywhere and priming them to blow for a loooong time. No wonder he's pumping books out so fast. Everything is already planned.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Thalric; not that it helps him, given that the Empire eventually decides he's better off dead - and then changes its mind again, at which point he betrays and murders a top-ranking general. He's hauled to the capital in chains, and arrives at just the right time to marry the new Empress, who needs a male figurehead. Then the Rekef decide they would prefer a new male figurehead... In Heirs of the Blade it seemed he was pretty content to put the past behind him and tag along with Che (although that is what we thought at the end of Salute the Dark with Seda...)
Clock Punk/Steam Punk: The world is in a transition phase between the two technologies, the Apt parts of it anyway.
The cover of Blood of the Mantis features a Mantis (possibly Tisamon) wielding a Claw. It doesn't appear to work in the way described in the books.
Cool Airship: A fair few, notably the Sky Without in Empire in Black and Gold and the Starnest invasion ship in Blood of the Mantis.
And of course, it's worth mentioning the "Triumph of Aeronautics", an armoured airship.
Dawn of an Era / End of an Age: Depending on your viewpoint the revolution of the Apt was either the dawn of science and the end of fear and superstition; or the end of magic and the start of a polluted, ignorant future.
Elves VS Dwarves: The kinden are dived between the Apt (Dwarves) and Inapt (Elves).
A very close approximation: the Inapt are graceful, (usually) tall and some use magic, while the Apt are generally bulkier and use technology.
This is partially averted in later books where it is shown that many Skater-kinden are becoming Apt whereas they had all been Inapt a few generations before.
Especially obvious between the Apt Beetles and Inapt Moths, given their mutual dislike. While the Spiders and Mantis (Mantises? Mantids?) are both similar to elves in different ways, their virulent enmity is also reminiscent of the elf/dwarf conflict of other settings.
Fantastic Racism: All kinden have their stereotypes about each other, but 'half breeds' tend to suffer far worse.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Elements of it, but certainly not to the extent often seen. Nevertheless, it's interesting to look at the Dragonfly-kinden, with their unusual long-handled swords, their "golden skin" and their surnames before their personal names. Did I mention that the Dragonfly was used in Japan as a symbol of the Samurai?
If Leonardo da Vinci had ever managed to create a working flying machine and spread it throughout Renaissance Italy, Solarno and the Spiderlands would probably feel a lot more familiar to the reader.
The Wasp Empire is surprisingly similar to the Roman Empire, with their use of Auxillians, and constant need for slaves.
Fantasy Gun Control: Subverted with crossbows being the "weapon of the revolution" that put the Apt in charge and the Inapt on their long journey down the pecking order, and then again when Totho invents the "snapbow" for the Empire, which is basically a gun that shoots further and harder than crossbows ever could, and makes even the awesome Mantis-kinden obsolete.
Gambit Pileup: The Spiderlands political landscape, especially in Solarno. Not unexpected seeing how every Spider is born a natural chessmaster.
Magic A Is Magic A: Art is Art, and is inherited and instantly recognisable as Art; technology is only usable and creatable by the Apt, and Aptitude is nearly always decided by kinden; magic is only usable by the Inapt, and relies on doubt and fear.
The Magic Versus Technology War: The setting's backstory has the magic using Inapt races being overthrown by their mechanically proficient servants several centuries ago.
Particularly prominent in The Scarab Path, with the attitude of the city of Khanaphes to progress.
Magically Binding Contract: We find that while the Apt do not believe in such a thing, especially the Wasps, the Inapt races like the Dragonflies do. The Monarch of the Commonweal signed the Treaty of Pearl with her name. This means that they cannot break it no matter what. Even the Wasps didn't know the treaty would be so binding.
Master Swordsman: The Mantis Hat in general, the Weaponsmasters in particular, though many prefer the Claw.
Meaningful Rename: The Butterfly-kinden change names after major changes in their life.
Near Villain Victory: The series starts off this way, with the Wasp Empire nearly strolling into the Lowlands without a fight while Stenwold and his spies try to rally the Lowland cities to fight back. This is even lampshaded in Blood of the Mantis by the emperor when he comments that so far the invasion of the Lowlands had not counted as war, merely a sequence of skirmishes. Now that Collegium, Sarn and the Ancient League had allied themselves against the Empire it just about passes as a war.
Neutral No Longer: The Moth-kinden and the Helleren militia at the end of Empire in Black and Gold.
The Sea Watch has to take the cake though. Despite some foreshadowing from previous books and online material, hints from Word of God, and even the front cover of the book itself; nothing prepares for the reveal that the "Sea-kinden" aren't just insect kinden that live underwater but are kinden of entirely non-insect related origins, and that these kinden are divided into families of unrelated kinden. Considering that the histories of the insect kinden are still a mystery to the reader its a pretty big shock to be suddenly introduced to Octopus- and Jellyfish-kinden. It also raises even more questions about how much Scyla (and her teachers) truely knew about the different types of Kinden.
This is basically what Adrian Tchaikovsky is trying to do. He says that he's trying to subvert the whole idea in fantasy that after an event, everything goes back to normal.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: The Apt in general, Che in particular, have outgrown the silly superstitions of magicnote Actually it's not quite as simple as "Inapt believe in magic, Apt don't"; people who have grown up in places ruled by the Apt also tend to believe that magic does not exist (eg. Tynisa is Inapt but was brought up in Collegium and does not believe in magic) where as people who have grown up in places ruled by the Inapt believe that magic does exist (eg. the Beetle servants in Tharn are Apt but they certainly believe in their master's abilities to perform magic.). This being a fantasy book, they are wrong. Meanwhile, everyone's outgrown the silly superstition that gods exist.
Unlucky Childhood Friend: Totho. A very interesting treatment of it, as it's Che's merely fraternal affection for him that leads to Totho working for the Wasps.
Worthy Adversary: Quite a few of the Imperial high command are presented at least somewhat sympathetically.
All weapon masters view each other this way. It also happens to be the traditional way of seducing a Mantis.
The Pilots of the Exalsee are compared to a dueling society; they all know and respect each other, some are very close friends, and if they were to find themselves pitted against one another their feelings wouldn't change. However this wouldn't stop them fighting to the death and shooting each other out of the air. Probably the best example of this is between Taki and Axrad (a Wasp pilot who seeks her out for an Air Duel during the invasion of Solarno)
Stenwold and Thalric are worthy adversaries as opposing spymasters and nearly friends later in the series if it wasn't for the fact that Stenwold and his spies don't trust Thalric enough to let him become that close. However it is clear that Thalric regrets this fact and often despairs about how he has more in common with Stenwold's friends than he does with any of his own kin.