It’s a good thing I generally listen to Jeff over at Genre Reader when he says a book is worth reading, because otherwise I would have taken one look at the cover of Empire in Black and Gold, laughed myself silly with the ridiculousness of it, and never picked the book up. I know I shouldn’t judge content based on cover art… but EiBaG’s cover is just SO awful and SO trite and SOOO video-game-over-the-top that I couldn’t take it seriously.
Luckily, I bought the book on a glowing review, sight-unseen, so I never had an opportunity to be put off. I was rewarded with a novel containing a rich world, fun and relatively complex characters, and really exciting blend of fantasy genres. There were pure fantasy elements, certainly, but also a healthy dose of steampunk and a bit of sci-fi. The three genres blended together very nicely and made for a very unique experience. I’ve seen a couple of reviewers complain about there being too much focus on battle sequences, but I didn’t find that to be the case; rather I thought the balance between intrigue, characters, and fighting was pretty well done. Additionally, the author has a Sanderson-esque ability to depict fights between several people extremely clearly and with a high level of bad-ass-ness.
On the characterization-front, I admired Tchaikovsky’s ability to build a cast that mostly bucked character- and fantasy-stereotypes without going so far as to fall off the other edge and end up back at “ridiculous.” This has been a big gripe of mine with a lot of modern fantasy authors (with Joe Abercrombie perhaps being the worst) so it’s nice to see someone who strikes a balance. His characters were well rounded and complex, often grappling with real issues. I particularly liked the character of Thalric, and Tchaikovsky’s investigation of good and evil and loyalty. Of the other main characters, the only one I didn’t feel particularly sympathetic towards was Totho, but that was likely because he got so much less “screen time.”
I will admit Tchaikovsky did toe the line a bit with his character relationships; sometimes his characters attitudes were refreshing and insightful, but other times they edged towards just a little trite. I called almost all of the major character developments, but not to an extent where I found myself saying “of COURSE that’s where this is going, get ON with it already.” Overall, it was not a flaw that reduced my enjoyment of the book.
Definitely give Empire in Black and Gold a read. It is refreshing and solid and did a great job shaking up the standard fantasy world and character tropes.