Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Shards of Earth

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 561

Series: The Final Architecture #1

For a long time, Tchaikovsky was my go-to author. I still contend that his Shadows of the Apt series is among the very best of epic and military fantasy out there. It’s a huge commitment, sure, 10 books getting consecutively bigger, as if Tchaikovsky was bent on proving that a book can be a weapon, too 😉 – not unlike Erikson in that regard – but if you do commit, you’ll be rewarded. Children of Time, Tchaikovsky’s first foray into SF, was great, too. Making spiders the protagonists of the book was a wonderful choice, giving the book a unique perspective and gravitas. Afterwards, however, it was more of a hit and miss. He seemed to produce books non-stop, like an upgraded version of Sanderson, and with similar results. I still rather enjoyed his fantasy novella Made Things, as well as his SF novella One Day All This Will Be Yours, but was thoroughly disappointed in his SF novel Bear Head. It seemed that Tchaikovsky had already used all his unique and original ideas, and started treading water, indulging in overused tropes and lazy structures. It was all still reasonably well written, but redundant, or even verging on ad-hoc political commentary. I stopped reading everything he was putting out. But when I saw several fellow bloggers praising his new SF novel, Shards of Earth, I decided to give it a go. So thanks, Jeroen and carol. and Nataliya!

I’m happy to write that Shards of Earth was for me a notable improvement in this regard. Not original, but putting a fresh spin on old ideas, and with some promising world-building (or rather universe-building) and character development. Tchaikovsky creates a post-Earth universe where human diaspora is dispersed among many planets, cohabited with several other sentient species, one of which, hive-mind AIs, have recently gained independence and a form of recognition from humans. This universe’s sentient life is constantly on the verge of extinction due to the existence of Architects – a strange planet-sized species of alien known for their penchant to transform inhabited planets into indecipherable – and totally uninhabitable – works of art. I mean, if you look at what’s left of your planet and even in this traumatized and near-death state you have an inkling that those wavy lines of exploded organic and inorganic matter have some aesthetic merit, it must be art, right? 

Anyway, even in this threatened universe humanity still does what it does best according to Tchaikovsky, i.e. argues, creates factions, hates each others factions, and generally engages in a tedious organization of a rigid pecking order where some have and some don’t – not only money, but everything, freedom included. Somewhere among this petty squabbling we meet our crew of misfits, flying remote routes and scrabbling meagre winnings, generally busy with living – until they drop right into the middle of trouble on a galactic scale and afterwards are just busy with not dying. Yep. It can always get worse.

There is a lot of metaphysical hand-wavium with regards to the Shards of Earth’s equivalent of hyperspeed, or warp speed, called here travelling through unspace. I guess someone watched Stranger Things recently ;). That said, it’s interesting enough, reminiscent mostly of Asher, at least for me. One of the main characters, one Idris Telemmier, who helped win the war with Architects by actually communicating with them and telling them there was a war, is one of the very few who can travel through unspace. It’s not a pleasant experience for anyone involved, and I liked the claustrophobic atmosphere of the unspace travels, the apparent emptiness of the universe stalked by an unseen and incomprehensible presence which makes the hair stand up on the back of one’s neck. Everybody says it doesn’t exist, that’s it’s a figment of imagination, but whoever tried the unspace knows better. Something’s there, and it’s curious. 

I must admit it took me a while to get into this book. The setup was pretty generic. It smacked of Asher and Banks, but probably because these authors’ space operas are the freshest in my mind ;). The found family trope was… okay but not immediately catching, and the manner of speech of the captain of The Vulture God was getting on my nerves. Fortunately for me, he didn’t have too many chances to speak. Yup, Tchaikovsky’s not stingy on the losses. But by setting up the stakes so high so early in the game, he manages to imbue the plot with a sense of seriousness, and urgency. And it works: the mad capering flight through the universe is filled with enough action and plot twists to make the constant self-pity, self-doubt, righteous anger and depression of the three main characters more bearable. Not that they don’t have their reasons – on the contrary – but all their gloomy doom does make for a rather dreary read at times. At least the crab-like alien Kittering is cheerful – or their translator malfunctions ;). Because it’s a first part of a series, I know that Tchaikovsky plans for the character development arcs; admittedly though, the bar here is set quite low: the entirety of the crew had been badly mauled by life and all of them bear the scars, some better than others.

What I enjoyed the most, however, were the glimpses of the alien culture of Hegemony, offered by its wayward son, Aklu the Unspeakable, the Razor and the Hook, the Lucifer-like gangster with a seemingly clear – if incomprehensible for humans – agenda. They know what they want, even if we don’t ;). The second favorite is the Hiver Trine, a collective of insectoidal robots with a hive intelligence who refuses to be taken back into fold and maintains his unique identity seemingly through sheer stubbornness and some handy excuses. 

I also appreciated the various forms of Otherness Tchaikovsky toys with here: the inter-species relations seem sometimes more benevolent than those intra-species, where tribalization is quite advanced. The vat-cloned Partheni, all looking basically the same, all a part of a military organization, are a good example; but equally interesting are both Ollie and Kris, both alienated for different reasons – and let’s not forget about Idris, an Int treated like a valuable property for his unique set skills, winning a war not an excuse enough to stop others from trying to enslave him. 

All in all, an enjoyable read. Entertaining and filled with action, at least once you manage to get through the slow beginning. The misfit crew of the Vulture God grows on you, too, so despite some misgivings regarding the book’s conclusion I’m quite looking forward to the next installment.

Score 7/10

29 thoughts on “Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth (2021)

  1. Reading this review made me again realize that I quite enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading the next one. By the way I recently read Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race and I thought it was a great novella, really fun and among his best work to date. Maybe I can even get Bart to try it out. Also by the way, Marlon James’ new book is out! Oh and thanks for the link to my review! (But you accidentally linked it to Persepolis Rising) .

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Elder Race is on my TBR thanks to your review (again!) Have you read Shadows of the Apt?

      I know! Just started the new James book, I got it from NG 😉

      Waah, sorry – just read your Persepolis review and must’ve accidentally copied the link!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I haven’t read Shadows of the Apt, but I need a TBR intervention before it’s going to give me anxiety attacks. Let’s focus on finishing Malazan first. Only two more books to go. I need to focus on finishing series. The final Bancroft book is also still looking at me balefully from the shelf. I just bought the new James book. Looking forward to it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shadows are my favorite Tchaikovsky’s work.
          Yeah, I’m curious about this new James. I was impressed with the prequel, but this one is from Sogolon’s point of view, so we’ll see 😉

          Link should work now! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I tried to post a comment on your Cibola Burn review but WP doesn’t let me login to do so. It doesn’t recognise my profile when I follow that link. Very strange. Anyway I won’t be picking up that one. Sounds like a waste of time.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. For some reason your comment didn’t show up in my notifications… Found it, though! 😅

      Yeah, I can imagine it would be quite a task to convince you to give Tchaikovsky a second chance… I get it, though – I mean, this is enjoyable, and not too politicized, but for me, Asher is better 😉 I want to read Elder Race next – Jeroen particularly enjoyed it, and as a mix of fantasy and sf (science as magic) it’s supposed to work pretty well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm, makes me wonder how many other sites I’m getting marked as spam on. If I have to deal with akismet again……

        I read Jeroen’s thoughts on Elder Race and it seems to have all the potential for every single problem I currently have with Tchaikovsky. He, J, didn’t mention any but he’s also not on the lookout like I am.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Your comment didn’t land in the spam; it had just flown under the notification radar and I found it in the comments section, as if already read 😉 Sneaky!

          It has potential to trumpet political agenda if that’s what you mean 😉, but I’m intrigued by the depression angle and the hobbled immortality of sorts enjoyed by the advanced culture rep. I have this image of Star Trek’s Enterprise from the second of the new movies, where it sits in the ocean as to not be detected by the leas advanced natives… 😉 I think it might be interesting! But I had been burned by Bear Head, badly, so I guess I’ll be on the lookout too for overly blatant political agenda, unfortunately.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Ahhh, good to know. I was afraid I was dealing with another akismet idiocy.

            I hope it works out for you. I don’t want other readers to have a bad time just because I don’t enjoy something 😀
            But I do feel like Tchaikovsky flew his flag loud and proud and so now I can’t go back.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I guess you and Tchaikovsky are like me and Correira 😉 No books of this guy for me! And while I generally agree with Tchaikovsky, even in political matters, I’d definitely appreciate less of them in my genre reading. Every author presents their views in their books, sure; but you can do it subtly, or you can whack people on the head with them. I’m all for the first option 🤣

              Liked by 1 person

              1. The difference between Correia and Tchaikovsky is that Correia made no bones from the get-go while Tchaikovsky pulled a bait and switch in terms of what to expect from him. Burn me once….

                Maybe if he headlines another cosmic horror anthology….

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant review! “Upgraded Sanderson”–😁– it struck me you are spot-on about the lazy tropes and lack of structure. I kept blaming the editing, but it does come down to what the writer decides to rework before submission, doesn’t it?
    I liked your thoughts about the book itself: it is easier to bear the main characters with the plot twists and diversions into alt-Us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, carol.!

      I suspect Tchaikovsky has turned into a printing press these last few years – either he took on too many committments or was too confident, or simply needed the money, but I noticed a dip in quality of his work. Mostly the imagination/idea side suffered, because he didn’t lose his writing skill, but I miss the originality and audacity of the early books. Ah, well, nobody can write ingenious books all the time 😉


  3. Greaat review Ola, I saved the first book of Shadow of the Apt from my wife’s de-haul pile as I want to read at least one of his works, before I get into the book(s) he is said to be writing for Black Library. As you and my wife’s taste differ a whole lot, I would like to also see for myself if Tjia is for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Dawie!
      I think you might enjoy Shadows of the Apt, actually – knowing your love for military SF, you should find yourself at least partly at home in Tchaikovsky’s world: grizzled warriors, strange weaponry, etc. Although it is fantasy, and one based largely on WWII 😉

      I’ll be looking forward to your review of Empire in Black and Gold!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad that this novel helped you to… reconcile with Tchaikovsky! IMHO it’s the best book, so far, among those I’ve read by him, and I have great expectations for the upcoming sequel, although I’m aware that those expectations can sometimes lead us to a treacherous path… 😉
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed this so much, Maddalena! I’m looking forward to the sequel, too, though I’m a bit worried that I’ve seen this described as “series” and not “trilogy”… Tchaikovsky did write a series before, and it was 10 books long! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re already inured to spiders after Children of Time, right? 😉 Then Shadows of the Apt is just for you, Maddalena! And you still have a whole year before the next installment of Final Architecture goes out, so… Time for some lengthy Tchaikovsky series! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

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