Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of this blog’s favourite contemporary writers. Ola reviewed significant portion of his published works and all of it was judged worthy of readers’ attention.
But he can be slightly intimidating. Big volumes, often whole series of them… and here is something different:
A quest to kill the Dark Lord, undertaken by a team consisting of a wizard, a warrior, an archer and a thief, led by a Priestess of Light. Many of us participated in such stories thanks to tabletop (or computer) rpgs, but books like that are rarely great. Often tie-ins, most of them are at best decent. I like to read one every now and then, but I don’t find them as good as I did as a teenager.
But this is Czajkowski. So I felt secure.
And he delivers, as usual. Not the he breaks the subgenre, but he crafted a little gem that manages to be way better, and more interesting, that your average sword & sorcery.
World is rather simple, divided between the Good and the Evil. There is a war, of course, against the Darkness, Darkness that seems to be winning, so our Heroes, armed with prophecy, start their quest to strike at the heart of the bad guys and kill their leader hidden in his Dark Tower.
And the protagonists are pretty archetypical, though likeable. Some virtuous, but dull, some interesting, and not-wholly-holly. Altogether, pretty generic, and I could almost see the faces of players hiding behind their characters, as if I was a witness to an rpg session.
Also, there is a spider. But in a Czajkowski novel that’s to be expected.
These days, we are used to being surprised. So all the twists in the plot, though commendable, are not that unexpected. Even the big one. Still, they are executed very aptly and change a generic story into a very good one. 280 pages of pure pleasure for every genre fan.
But there was a message here. Character development. Again, not the most sophisticated nor ground-breaking, but fresh and uplifting.
Morality of this world starts very simple. There is light, and there is dark. Some are born into one, some into the other. Light gets corrupted, sometimes, but dark has no soul and cannot be saved. Righteous heroes slaughter countless evil minions with no regard for collateral damage. Just being a warrior of Good makes one morally superior, killing and whoring and plain meanness aside.
At the beginning.
But people learn. They get to know other people (and monsters) and understand them a bit. And they begin to dislike the more annoying a-holes from their side. And the world becomes a better place.
It’s simple, it’s nothing new, but it’s such a nice thing to read about. In fantasy novel, if not in the papers. Our world does not seem to be going that way…
And it’s not easy liberalism of many modern fantasy novel, in a caricature of medieval society. With noble protagonist enlightening knights and pigfarmers alike with democracy and gender studies. Prejudices of both sides of the conflict are realistic, and their road to improvement is hard and believable.
I completely forgot to add a few quotes I marked as especially interesting…
The first one shows the kind of humour a reader can expect, it’s one of the fanniest books I’ve read lately…
“I like beer”.
Lief’s expression lit up. “Good for you.”
“I like you to. You make beer happen.”
(…)Well, maybe we better slow down on the beer a bit. Savour it, you know?”
And more serious…
“Now that is some impressive divination,” Penthos said genuinely impressed by someone else for a change.
Lief himself said nothing, because he was thinking about all those powerful men and women of the Light sitting on their hands for decades, knowing that Darvezian was out there, and defeatable, but feeling no particular inclination to go do it, because they knew that someone else would eventually take up the slack. Which is exactly the problem with prophesies.
And where does Czajkowski stand on the, often mentioned here, sexism in fantasy issue?
As his eyes were drawn inexplorably down Cyrene’s body, with those leggins she would always wear, he became pointedly aware of the possibility that he migt actually find himself standing to attention, here in the Potentate’s antechamber. Quickly he turned away. It was always the problem with Cyrene. She was such a well-made woman, and yet so immodest! She should have more respect for men’s passions. No wonder she was constantly attracting the wrong sort!