The Bear and the Serpent by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Book Review
Maniye, the child of wolf and tiger shapeshifters has risen to the status of a Champion. But as her people are not sure what to do with her she joins a band of outcasts led by Prince Tecuman, a crocodile shapeshifter. On the move but now part of a small and mobile community, Maniye must forge her new future.
Compared to the first book in ‘The Echoes of the Fall’ series The Tiger and the Wolf, which set the scene for Maniye’s story and chronicled her flight into a bleak world with few allies, this book puts her more in the driving seat. Although there is no time for her to relax as warring siblings threaten to create a tremendous upheaval.
The world Adrian Tchaikovsky has created is technologically primitive and in some cases on the level of a hunter gatherer society, whose weapons are primarily the beasts they shapeshift or ‘step’ into. But the politics is every bit as sophisticated as that of an advanced society only with considerably more hand-to-hand violence.
As with the first book you get a real sense of being in the skin of the characters and moving through Tchaikovsky’s imaginary world. An impression is created that you can see every rock and stone that Maniye and her band pass, although this is more because the writing provides enough prompts to stimulate the reader’s mind to fill in the gaps.
It is largely in the fight scenes where the details are really delivered. These are more than just an indulgence by Tchaikovsky to liven up the story, because this is a society that is perfectly capable of making a political point through the use of elegant rhetoric, but if that doesn’t work they will back it up with a physical expression of their position. Form is changed according to the degree of leverage it affords them in terms of status or ability to gain an advantage in combat. For this reason the traits of each animal are exploited in every possible way (the more experienced and skilled the individual, the more fluid their method of fighting). We begin to see how Maniye is maturing as a champion in these moments in the way she ‘steps’ from human to wolf to tiger and then back again as she tactically assesses the pros and cons of each shape. This adds an extra dimension to all the physical and psychological manoeuvring that goes on.
Maniye’s friend Lord Thunder, a bear shapeshifter, is also on his own quest to unite the northern tribes to face what would appear to be an oncoming world changing event.
Like The Tiger and the Wolf, The Bear and the Serpent is a read to be savoured and is only for those who want to be immersed in a world where the plot does not unfold at a breakneck pace. The Bear and the Serpent is over a hundred pages less than the Tiger and the Wolf, but in no way short changes the reader, delivering the similar epic quality.
The Bear and the Serpent was courtesy of Pan Macmillan