First of all, I loved this book. It’s definitely one that I’ll reread many times and I am still thinking about it a week after finishing it.
This is going to be long, I’m not sorry. I’ll start with what I loved. (Which is pretty much everything!) This is my first Tchaikovsky and is not my usual fantasy pick. I like my fantasy feudal. Technology (including any sort of gun/grenade/canon) is normally a huge turn off for me when I’m looking to escape reality. Guns of the Dawn, obviously, contains guns. Lots and lots of guns – it is primarily a story about humanity and warfare. I am so glad I took a risk and read it as it is about so much more than that too. I would like to preface all this with saying that this is definitely fantasy lite. Yes there are warlocks who can conjure fire and the countries are imaginary, but the magic does not have a huge role in the story at all.
I won’t regurgitate the plot as you can read that for yourselves but if you enjoy character focussed stories, you’ll like this. Tchaikovsky is an excellent writer. I found the prose engaging, addictive and intelligent. There are no ‘filler’ characters and the plot builds and flows well. The battle writing is particularly fantastic. A large part of Emily’s experience of war is in a swamp and the imagery the author creates is so immersive. I could smell the smoke and sludge and feel the mud and humidity.
I enjoy Austen and other historical fiction that is reminiscent of ‘regency-esque historical England’ but with a twist (usually magical) ie. there are balls and class structures in place under a monarchy. This is because I enjoy plots where women (and men!) are able to break the stereotypes of their society and this is exactly what Emily manages. To be honest, she was never particularly docile, I loved reading her harangue Mr Northway in the beginning third of the book and admired her bravery when she (along with many other women) is drafted into the war. Despite coming from a noble family, she volunteered to go to war rather than force one of her servants to go in her stead. She constantly fought against the prejudices that strangers had of her gender and her class, mainly from the women who were forced into war by their noble employers, but as she proved herself again and again she gained well deserved respect and admiration. She has morals and isn’t afraid to stick to them. She was badass, but also acknowledged that she was scared shitless. Her development was incredible, I think Tchaikovsky deals very well with the effect war can have on different people and explores this masterfully with all the characters, not just Emily.
I found all the characters very interesting, they all had very different personalities and history that shows how/why they became what they did. Even Alice – The annoying, vain younger sister was very realistic as a lot of young women would have been like that in an equivalent real-life world. Also, Mr Northway. I could write forever about my thoughts on him – his character is so complex but relatable and just ah. Great characterisation. I also loved how Tchaikovsky flipped and explored gender tropes throughout the story and I think Northway is a very good example of a non-alpha male protector/antagonist. It was all very refreshing.
I only have a few criticisms for this wonderful exploration of the morality and effects of prolonged warfare and to be honest they’re just niggles. Although I did love the writing, I was a bit frustrated at how long it took to get to the point sometimes. Maybe that is just me being impatient to read what the characters were trying to announce/reveal but sometimes, at key points when you’re hanging on every word knowing something big is about to happen, Tchaikovsky let Emily’s inner dialogue about the situation flow on too long. I shouted at the book to ‘just spit it out’ at one point because I NEEDED to read what was going to happen and she was meandering. Don’t get me wrong, the pondering was relevant and interesting and philosophical at times BUT sometimes it felt like Tchaikovsky was just trying to build up the anticipation. All these thoughts could have been discussed later. I found this affected the pacing a little, both at big moments and during the large war part.
My other small niggle is the slight love-triangle. I am all for a bit of romance in a story and I think it was largely touched on really well here. It didn’t dominate the story in anyway and it was a slow burn. It was realistic and my heart bled for one particular character. But I felt a second love interest was thrown in just for added oomph and was unnecessary. I don’t think -that- romance was very well developed and other than being handsome and young, of which we were reminded often, I didn’t see anything between them. Although saying that, it was an interesting way to show how people cope in scary, life or death situations, and how sometimes losing yourself in something completely different can keep you sane. But then again, I thought there was enough tension between the original two to carry the plot to conclusion without that added conflict of a potential third wheel. I know i’m being vague but i don’t want to spoil anything.
The ending was great, like the very end. But I don’t think Emily was mentally in the place to do what she did in the climax. You know, the big thing she did. I think her thought process could have been explored a little more before she did it/while she was doing it, or she could have said more afterwards to explain. But overall, love love love!! Give it a chance, I hope you won’t regret it.