Book: Empire in Black and Gold

31 Jul

Non-pony story today. As mentioned previously. So a bit of pony content up here in the intro bit. A guilty pleasure of mine is however much I don’t like the art, I have enjoyed several of the Equestrian Girls songs. Been watching the Battle of The Bands clip recently. Two favorite bits. The first is the villains have magic necklaces with red gems on the front. Very much the same color as the Alicorn Amulet. Would be cool if that connection turned out to be true. Second favorite bit, the three evil girls are singing this song of conflict that ensnares everyone in the cafeteria other than our heroes. Well, and you see Vinyl Scratch in the background wearing headphones and headbobbing, completely oblivious to the song number or fight breaking out. Won’t happen, but it would be awesome if a major plot point is that Vinyl is completely unaffected by their magic influence simply because she is always listening to her headphones and therefor completely immune to the music-based corruption.

Completely unrelated: I wanted to pass on the link to a friend’s Patreon page. She’s an artist that does pretty funny webcomics, Supporting her is better than buying bottled water, and that’s a hard, solid non-researched statement. Just keep in mind that you can pledge less than a dollar, so even just a quarter or so to toss in each month will add up. Which is true for anyone on Patreon you might want to support. The link here, just to help my friend out.

Bleh. This book has a neat idea at the core of it, and the writing is functional, but I gave up about 60% in because I was simply bored with it. This one is basically a demonstration of everything I’ve gotten tired of in mainstream/published fiction. The reason why almost all of my reading for the past year has been pony fan fiction (which has it’s own troubles, but they are different ones). Empire of Black and Gold is functional. That’s pretty much how I’d describe it. It’s got all the pieces of a epic fantasy adventure. Pretty much constructed out of all the pieces of a epic fantasy story gotten from every other story in that particular genre. Evil empire, small band of eccentric rebels, and so on. All the characters aren’t shallow enough to be called cliches, but not strong enough to be called archetypes. They simply have no life. I read this story and I get nothing of the author from it. Except that he probably likes this genre, because that’s what this book is. You could feed a dozen epic fantasy stories into a book-generating machine and it could pop this out.

The core idea is a cool one. Fantasy world where there are giant insects, like ten foot tall praying mantises. The way the people survived was to use magic to take the essence of various insects into themselves. So you’ve got beetle-people, ant-people, mantis-people. All with personalities and abilities of their type. Well, of the most cliche and poorly thought out stereotypes of whatever insect they are. Plus it’s Star Trek aliens. Instead of being cool half-insect creatures, everyone is basically human with maybe one little non-human feature. Even the wings for the flying ones are just magic energy and not actual giant insect wings. Example: The beetle people are the machine builders and mechanics. The spider people are beautiful manipulators and social, well, spiders. Whereas if you actually thought about the core idea, you’d totally make the spiders the mechanics. Spiders are one of the only other tool-using animals on the planet besides us. Spiders build traps, homes, they make parachutes to fly across continents, other spiders use silk airbags to live and hunt underwater. But the cliche for spiders is the manipulator, so that’s what we get in this story.

The whole story was like that. The author just putting in stuff without really thinking about it much. The enemy is a evil empire who can be summed up in the phrase ‘evil empire’. They literally have no motivation except to be bad guys. They are wasp people, and I was looking forward to that being really cool. Wasps are really interesting. They build hives out of paper, some of them inject eggs into still-living spiders so the babies can eat their way out, others lay eggs in tree branches that trigger the tree to grow a defensive barrier around the egg to protect it. You could do so much with a empire based on wasp traits. We get none of that. Just evil, they shoot lasers, and they are an evil empire. We even get a perspective of one of the bad guys, who basically just shows us that he is very loyal. For no particular reason. We don’t get any sense of why he is loyal to the evil empire. Then we get a shallow as heck plotline where maybe he starts to see the evil empire as evil, but he’s so loyal to the idea of it you see. It is probably the worst execution of that particular trope I’ve ever read. This author needs to go read Elantris, which is basically the exactly same story. Only with cool deeply thought about magic, a opposing empire that actually has character and motivations, and a bad guy questioning his loyalty that actually works.

Really, this is a example of all the writing books and articles I’ve read. All the mainstream writing advice that is basically sandpaper all the edges off your story, make it bland and predictable, and make sure nothing of the author shows too strongly. Bland, bland, boring, bland. It also made me realize that in all of the writing books and advice I’ve read, I don’t think I’ve ever run into anything that tries to teach you how to use language. Like I’ve heard that a lot of ‘problems’ can be handled if you’ve got a talent at using beautiful language, like say, H. P. Lovecraft. Yet almost nowhere do you get any idea of how to practice that skill. It’s all the really basic nuts-and-bolts sort of thing, the of storytelling that are the easiest parts to quantify and are really the least important parts of a really good story.

And, because I just listened to a podcast about how to write good fight scenes in books, I want to comment on the action scenes in this book. They are, like everything else, functional. The three authors who do this podcast, two of them are authors I really like and respect the skill of. One is, in fact, the guy who wrote Elantris. So I feel the need to point out that this book has action scenes that do everything the podcast said not to do. The author apparently took their comments on what makes for poor action scenes and used it as a checklist for what to include.

I wouldn’t recommend this book, if that’s not clear. Heck, The Immortal Game pony fan fiction was better epic fantasy than this on pretty much every level. However, it looks to be a series with almost a dozen books in it. It’s my own philosophy that the primary goal of a story is for a reader to enjoy it, and I don’t think he would be writing so many of them if people weren’t reading them. Though they do seem to be self-published, so who knows? Do seem to have fairly professional (read bland and marketing-based) covers. Anyway, I know at least one person who liked the first one enough to recommend it to me. I was disappointed.

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt 1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Books 2014


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