Book Review – The Bear and The Serpent

The Bear and The Serpent by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Genre – Epic Fantasy
Excitable Rating – 7/10

This is the amazing sequel to a book I have previously reviewed, The Tiger and The Wolf, and I am so glad to say that Tchaikovsky keeps the good stuff coming.

Brief re-cap (if you can’t be bothered with the link) this is a fantasy world where all people have an animal soul within them which they can transform into, the peoples of this world are then divided up into societies based on the animal totems they possess.

At the end of the first book we were left with the knowledge that a great and ancient doom faced the characters of this tale – what this great and terrible doom specifically was or if it was even real, was yet to be revealed.  Fear not brave reader the suspense ends with this book!  While not an entirely original plot point (I mean who really cares if the plot is original it’s what you do with the detail, am I right?) this is not disappointing in any way.

In a now quite familiar trope of epic fantasy the world is separated by two conflicts one of the supernatural and one of political intrigue (think White Walkers vs. the fight for King’s Landing) – one that is actually used in another excellent series The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley, if you’re fed up of only getting references to Game of Thrones in fantasy reviews (yes I know I just did that).

So in the North we have Loud Thunder, as contracted by his Mother (spiritual leader of the bear-people, they all call her Mother), attempting to bring together all of the tribes of the Crown of the World and turn them into A Force To Be Reckoned With.  With deep-seated feuds between the Tigers and the Wolves, Wolves and Deer, the Eyrie and everyone, and the Bears being generally unsociable this does not go well.

While in the South in the Sun River Nation Maniye Many Tracks and her warband of misfits help Asmander to defend the heir-apparent (supposedly) Kasra (means King basically) Tecuman.  The reason he needs defending is due to him being a twin and his sister Tecumet has also been told by spiritual advisors that she is the one true Kasra.  So we have a good ol’ fashioned fight for the throne, which takes places in the murky swamps of the estuary – allowing Tchaikovsky to introduce more animal peoples such as Toad and Chameleon.  My only complaint of this is that due to his reluctance in some cases to use the actual name of an animal, I’m not really sure why that is, meant that I was unable to deduce specifically which species he was referring to – for example The Stone People.  Are they rhinoceroses or armadillos or tortoises, though they move too fast for that really… They may even be badgers from their description at times? Honestly it didn’t take away from the story in particular it just made me mildly confused.

Overall I very much enjoyed this sequel, as with all secondary titles in a series it has issues of momentum in that it needs intrigue and action but without drawing anything to a finality, but I think Tchaikovsky handles this really well.  I can’t wait to return again to this world where the animal within us all really can come out to play!

Exciting Features:

  • Existential crisis of Venat – hard-man Komodo Dragon turned pondering intellectual (sort-of)
  • Maniye just annihilating anyone in her path with her massive ancient beast soul
  • Hesprec Essen Skese continuing to be as sarcastic as ever
  • More lore about the fantasy world and its history
  • Like hardly any romance, even the tiny bits of romance are done in such a subtle way as to be completely irrelevant to the plot but a nice touch

With special thanks to Adrian Tchaikovsky for the lovely signed edition!

Thanks for reading,

~ The Excitable Feminist

For a little bit more on the book, spoilers included, read below…

 The history of the peoples of this world is that they were driven across the ocean by a threat called The Plague People, the ocean was then filled with monsters by their gods to protect them.  The Plague People are an ancient threat and therefore very little of the lore surrounding them is remembered, in that classic way which means very few peoples believe in the existence of the threat until it is almost too late.  Although saying that it seems that by most character’s reactions that this is a threat still heavily imbued in the collective consciousness of the world, so it will be interesting to see how this is handled differently.

One character to gain a POV chapter is Grey Herald (of the Owl) who ends up awakening an ancient ally from suspended life, a group which I am very excited to see what is done with them within the plot – and were a cool twist I did not see coming.

The arrival of The Plague People on the shores of this world signals the beginning of a great conflict, their weapons including the terrifying ability to remove the human element when a character is in their animal form – essentially leaving a person stuck as animal with no recollection of being human.

I can’t wait to see how Tchaikovsky continues this story, it’s going to be a more twisty end I suspect than I can predict!

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