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

Welcome to the Lowlands and what I can only describe as the most underrated epic fantasy series of our time! Yes, you heard me correctly and I do not use these words lightly. Adrian Tchaikovsky is known mostly through his sci-fi novels but he wrote a ten book epic fantasy series starting with Empire in Black and Gold in 2008. This ten book epic fantasy series is the hidden gem of the epic fantasy genre and I would like to thank Tor UK for rereleasing the entire series including its first release on audible. The audible edition is performed by the very talented Ben Allen and he does a smashing job. Every single characters voice was performed brilliantly and I mentioned to Ben that one scene in a haunted forest was done so well that he literally gave me the chills! Ok, that’s enough about me gushing about this story.

The Lowlands is a world and civilization unlike any other you have read in the fantasy genre and I can guarantee that! There are several different races of humans in this world with each race being referred to as a different Kinden. A Kinden is a race of human that based on the aspects of different insects!. I know this may sound strange but let me explain how it works. The world consists of several different types of Kinden: beetles, ants, dragonfly, mantis, spider, moth, wasp etc… Each Kinden contains their own skills or magic abilities. Beetle-Kinden tend to be short with round build and they are very smart with the ability to build machines. Ant-Kinden are short but very strong soldiers to go to war and they can communicate in each others minds without talking. Mantis-Kinden are elite soldiers similar to a samurai and very prideful. Finally Wasp-Kinden are magic users who can fly, but not very strong as a group. All of these Kinden and so much more inhabit this world and Adrian Tchaikovsky has taken my breath away with his imagination and creative genius!

There is so much that happens in just this one book that I believe it could have been split up into a trilogy. This is a dream come true for me as I read these books almost a decade ago and it deserves a much wider audience and fanbase. Lets get into the synopsis: The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace for decades, bastions of civilization, prosperity and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbors. But meanwhile, in far-off corners, the Wasp Empire has been devouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, its killing Art…And now its hunger for conquest and war has become insatiable. Only the ageing Stenwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over. It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path. But first he must stop himself becoming the Empire’s latest victim.

We follow several characters on this journey and each one is better than the next. First we follow Cheerwell Maker: Stenwold’s niece and student at the collegium. Beetle-Kinden curious about the world and its inhabitants until the war is brought to her front door. Next we follow Tynisa: Stenwolds student and ward. Spider-Kinden who finds that she has no interest in the learning and knowledge of building machines but instead wishes to take up the way of the sword. Then we have Tisamon: Mantis-Kinden and a fierce warrior. Guilted by the betrayal of his once friend, he had lived in isolation for the past 17 years until Stenwold calls for help and the war with the wasps begin. Finally there is Achaeos: Moth-Kinden on a secret mission until it goes horrible wrong, He is a seer in training and his scenes involving his powers were the one of my favorite parts of the story.

Each Kinden has its own history and predigests towards the others. Beetles, Ants, and Flies were slaves, cowed by the powerful sorceries of their masters that they couldn’t even comprehend. The Lowlands were ruled by the Moth-Kinden, with the assistance of the Mantis-Kinden. This relationship is summed up in the commonly used phrase Masters of the Grey, Servants of the Green. This was until the revolution happened and the slaves rose up with the might force of the machines to overtake their masters and magic is now practiced in certain areas.

Now that we got that out of the way, lets get into the writing. If you have read any of Adrian Tchaikovsky other novels, you already know how much of a wizard he is with words. Beautifully and methodically written with suspense and tension lurking around every corner. It had been almost a decade since I first read this and I was still shocked and how much I didn’t remember and I left with a huge smile on my face ready to dive into book 2. This book does have some very dark moments including a torture scene, a brutal murder, and the very brief glimpse of a rape scene (nothing graphic or descriptive), in case these types of scenes are hard to read for some readers.

I consider this series a must read for any lover of epic fantasy and those readers who are looking for something completely different in the SFF community. It is a crime that this series is such an unknown to the vast majority of fantasy readers and I will take it upon myself to correct this injustice. This is in my top 5 greatest epic fantasy series ever written and I hope you will see this work for the grand epic it truly is.

Thank you Ben Allen for your wonderful contribution to this series and keep the good work!

Adrian, I can’t begin to express my gratitude for creating this masterpiece and I hope many will appreciate this work and all its glory! It has changed the way I want stories to be told forever and I have you to thank!



  1. I snagged this series after I was totally blown away by “Children of Time” a few years back. I got the first book through the library and then just outright bought them all because I could tell it was special. I was right. This series is absolutely fantastic front to back. Tchaikovsky is among the most talented authors of our time, in my opinion. This series seals that deal.


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