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Who By Fire

Dragonfly Falling  (Shadows of the Apt, volume 2)

By Adrian Tchaikovsky 

9 Feb, 2018

A Dozen by Tchaikovsky


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2009’s Dragonfly Falling is the second volume in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt decology.

The city-state of Collegium is the keystone of Lowland resistance to the coming Wasp Empire conquest of the lowlands. The Empire tried — and failed — to remove Collegium from the board with a swift, bold gambit. No matter. When cunning fails, there is always brute force.

Despite their common defensive interests, the Lowlands lack a common identity. The Ant-kinden cities in particular are steadfast in their embrace of sole sovereignty, preferring to stand alone rather than ally with neighbours they deem inferior. Ants can, however, be persuaded to other actions. So it is that the Wasps carefully direct the attention of the Ant-city of Vek towards Collegium. Humiliated in a previous conflict with Collegium, Vek is eager for revenge. 

Surrounded by a vast, determined Vekken army, Collegium seems isolated. As the Ants discover, this does not mean Collegium is defenseless. It is the greatest assembly of the educated on the continent, an unparalleled collection of the inspired and the innovative. If inflexible, stubborn Ants of Vek wished to die in interesting new ways, they could not do better than to march against the walls of Collegium.

But quantity has a quality all of its own. The genius of Collegium may not be enough to stand against Vekken numbers. And if it is? Well beyond the walls of Collegium, an ancient evil is waking.


The Wasp Empire is a terrible neighbour but as this book makes clear, it is also a wretched place in which to live. This is true of everyone, from the lowest slave to Emperor Alvdan himself. Men are cannon-fodder, women are brood mares, all in service of a mindlessly expanding empire. Alvdan’s sister Seda has a particularly unpromising future. She expects that at some point, her Imperial brother will sacrifice her to the service of the empire.

I am not pleased that it’s a mixed caste character who turns traitor in this volume, although at least he’s motivated by a desire to use his new position to keep his former allies alive a while longer [1]. I also wish that the Wasp Empire were not so dedicated to the brutalization of women.

Two volumes into the book, the series has established one of its core rules, which is that one should never invite Che along on field ops. Her capacity for survival is rivalled by her ability to wander into traps and to become entangled in plot complications with continental-scale implications. Che is well up on my list of characters with whom I would not go camping. 

What I expect readers will most enjoy about this is the duel between Vek, its soldiers united in telepathic and racial solidarity, and the diverse forces of Collegium, encompassing all the races and any form of ingenuity that cares to present itself. Vek has discipline and determination shored up with a complete lack of imagination. Collegium has genius and Mad Science and the power of applied mathematics. Place your bets accordingly.

Dragonfly Falling is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: I should acknowledge that the Wasp habit of discarding those they deem surplus inspires a number of their agents to defect to Collegium; the Empire loses much more than they gain by their draconian rule and it’s their own fault. Not all of the defectors survive the attempt to come in out of the cold, but their flights are, as I recall, a harbinger of things to come.