Adrian Czajkowski (Tchaikovsky), Made Things (2019)

Made Things

Author: Adrian Czajkowski

Title: Made Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 190

Series: –

ww2020

Adrian Czajkowski is probably most well-known to SFF readers for his science-fiction novel Children of Time – and, of course, for his unconditional love of spiders. Yet to me, his best work to date is unequivocally the ten-book fantasy series Shadows of the Apt, which I don’t hesitate to call his opus magnum – both because of the sheer length of the saga (and I’m not even counting the companion collections of short stories), but also because it is insanely creative, ambitious, and yet respectful toward its historic sources. Czajkowski has become a truly prolific writer, mixing many flavors of the SFF and even horror genres into unique, original work. Made Things, his novella/short novel, can be described as such an effort – a whimsical tale of adventure and magic in an alt-Mediaeval world.

Made Things are literally made things – little homunculi originally created by a human from a variety of materials, from metal and wood to paper and thread, and given life through magic. Now, having gained independence from their maker in somewhat traumatic circumstances, they find themselves completely on their own in a not very friendly, and frankly rather enormous, real world. They are drawn to the human world and human-made sources of magic: various trinkets, jewelry and items of great power, as magic imbues their bodies with a life-force and sentience. They are also drawn to people themselves, however dangerous that might be, because people tend to possess a lot of non-magic stuff – out of which a new body for a new member of the colony can be fashioned (or outright stolen, as the case may be for some of the more entrepreneurial little people).

One particular person they feel drawn to is a half-mage and half-thief, and a fully talented puppeteer, Coppelia. Coppelia is an orphan living dangerously, if somewhat poorly, in the famous city of Loretz. This city is a character in its own way – and an image of society in microcosm, equally full of wonderful, beautiful magic and very mundane (or is it always?) nastiness of a rather definite, cutthroat flavor. For Loretz is like a flame, to which all imaginative or desperate moths fly: the center of the world, literally oozing with awe-inspiring potential and promise, but never delivering on neither. Loretz’s currency is magic, jealously guarded and hoarded by mages, who live in sheltered opulence in an impregnable castle beyond the river. The rest of Loretz’s citizens, shunned by mages and treated as necessary evil, had been evicted to the other side of that physical boundary. Those blighted souls in the poor districts of the city don’t merit much attention, unless they possess at least a scrap of magic talent which could be used to the established mages’ profit. Then they are forcefully taken to workshops from which they never return. This is the fate that met Coppelia’s parents, and now she’s very careful not to share it, preferring poverty and thievery to realizing her magical talent. Because those without magical talent are left to their own devices, allowed to fend for themselves on scraps of magic leaking slowly from the enchanted fortress. But if they ever think of reaching for more, they are quickly brought to heel by the ever-present Broadcaps, the non-magical enforcers of the mages, cruel and fully embodying the old adage “might is right”.

Yes, that’s that kind of story: from the outset we’re set to root for the underdogs: the oppressed and have-nots, for the poor dreamers and social innovators in the meaning proposed by Merton – in short, all those who have no choice but to try make ends meet in whatever way they deem possible, whether within the limit of law or beyond it 😉 There’s a hierarchy to everything in Loretz, a stilted pecking order that at some point must break – because even on the non-magical side of the city the Broadcaps oppress their subjects, the crime lords abuse their power over their subordinates, and as a result, the average citizens are left with almost nothing: enough to survive from day to day, but not enough to dream. When a chance discovery puts the dispossessed on a crash course with the privileged mages, you can be sure that sparks will fly – quite literally at times.

Czajkowski belongs to a rare breed of writers who write with gusto, enthusiasm and enjoyment, all of which are clearly detectable in his every creation, and all of which are quite contagious as well. Made Things is no exception here. It’s a literary bagatelle, a lightweight, fast-paced trifle that nevertheless turns out to be highly entertaining. Of course, Czajkowski wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t try to introduce some weightier concepts into the mix – the abuse of power, the question of equal possibilities in the face of economic inequalities and their results: the inevitable transformation of economic differences to a plethora of deep social inequalities and consequential injustice. He also throws in some good-natured fun with the concept of gender and secondary sexual characteristics, as well as the issues of family, loyalty and trust. There are several clever and very cinematic ideas, such as a mechanical hand pointing directions, or the various types homunculi themselves: from androgynous humanoids to origami figures or even sentient pieces of string; the action patters along nicely and mostly without a hitch, and although it remains predictable to the very end – which is to be expected from such a short work – it is never boring.

Considering that worldbuilding seems the main ambition of Made Things, I would be amiss if I didn’t at least mention it: and indeed, it is solid and imaginative, as usual in Czajkowski’s works. Loretz is a stereotypical Mediaeval town that nevertheless gains independence and life of its own; it is painted in various shades, with broad strokes and minute details, and offers the readers also a glimpse of a wider world, teeming with opportunities. Admittedly, there are a few darlings that should have not escaped from the butcher’s block, but apart from them, Made Things is a quick, pleasant read. A palate cleansing, an enjoyable diversion from heftier, more demanding books – in this capacity the feisty novella gets my whole-hearted recommendation. I’d like to see Czajkowski return to this world to create some new stories about feisty homunculi and shrewd puppeteers. I know I’d happily read more about Tef and Arc – the most adventurous of the homunculi, as well as their evolving relationship with Coppelia.

Score: 7,5/10

44 thoughts on “Adrian Czajkowski (Tchaikovsky), Made Things (2019)

  1. When I read the short story “Precious Little Things”, that I believe acted as prequel to this longer work, I was fascinated by the concept of the animated objects and by my emotional response to these constructs’ journey, so I knew I would love this one: your review just confirmed that feeling…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading! 😊
      Yes, the world in Made Things is very unique – and for once, there are no invertebrates around! 🤣
      That reminds me that I still need to read that short story prequel!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to hear that. Chris! 😀
      Fortunately, this particular book is very short, judging by contemporary standards – only 190 pages, and fast-paced, so one can zoom through it in one sitting 🙂 If you find yourself with a free hour or two on your hands, this little novel might prove a welcome change of pace/distraction/palate cleanser/inspiration/… (insert something nice of your choice) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I recall seeing some positive feedback for this book a while ago and it did pique my interest but I confess I’ve still not got round to reading anything by this author. I’m glad you enjoyed this though and it does sound like a great idea for a theatre production.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This one is a good starting point as it’s pretty short: so if it’s not for you, you won’t have lost much time, and if it is something you enjoyed, you’ve got a whole list of other, longer books by Tchaikovsky 😀
      Thanks for dropping by, Lynn! 😊

      Like

      1. I am so sorry – of course I’ve read this author. I read the name differently somehow. I just haven’t read any of his shorter works! Doh.
        I read Dogs of War and Tiger and the Wolf and I have a copy of Doors of Eden that I’m really looking forward to.
        Lynn 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s just our contrarian nature, I guess 😉 Tchaikovsky has Polish ancestors and when his books were being published in Poland he asked that the publisher used the original spelling of his name – Czajkowski. But the publisher declined on the grounds that nobody would know it, and so we decided to take it upon ourselves to fulfill Tchaikovsky’s wishes and use the original spelling on our blog 😉
          Good reading, Lynn! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  3. This review was amazing! I have read only one book by this author, Redemption’s Blade, and I loved it. So now, obviously, I want to read more of his books, especially the fantasy ones, and I have this novella on my TBR too.
    But now I am dying to read it, because your review made me so curious!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Susy! 😊
      This one is short and sweet, and it won’t take you long to read given how briskly it flows, but if you have more time and are not averse to fantasy with war/military aspect, I can wholeheartedly recommend Shadows of the Apt, which is a ten-book behemoth and wildly satisfying! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I absolutely love the sound of everything in this story. I feel like Tchaikovski’s stories might indeed be something that I am simply missing out on for way too long. I at least have the first book of his bug-centric epic now and look forward to finally diving into that one. I won’t forget about Made Things though. It sounds so whimsical for some reason.

    I also love how I learn so many new words through your review. Every. Single. Time. I’ve probably said this billions of times but I sure do hope I’ll be able to write so effortlessly as I get old! 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lashaan, dear 90’s child, I’m NOT old yet! 😛 😂😂😂

      That said, thank you for your sweet compliment/underhanded jab at my age 😂😂😂 It really means a lot, especially that English is not my first language. So, thank you! 😊

      This is a cute little tale, and it indeed is whimsical, free-floating and, despite its slyly subtle social commentary, feels like a perfect antidote to all the heavier reads in our anxious times.

      Still, I will always recommend first and foremost Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt! 😀 I’m glad you have Empire in Black and Gold already, but beware – the first major story arc spans the first four books 😂

      Like

      1. Hahahaahahahah! Hey! I never did any jabs whatsoever regarding your age! I’m just saying that the only way I’m ever going to be able to reach your level of wisdom and obtain your kind of writing skills is with age/time! 😉

        Oh man… four books… Still love the idea hahahaha Just can’t foresee how long this could take to complete! 😛

        Liked by 1 person

        1. LOL, now you resorted to unabashed flattery! 🤣🤣🤣 Seriously though, I am flattered – and I’m very glad you enjoy reading my reviews!!! 😊

          I love Shadows of the Apt. One of very few series I’m considering re-reads of. Hope you’ll like it! 😀

          Like

  5. I really like the sound of this one. Sounds like a nice little read (I’ve been enjoying novellas as of late) so I may pick this up in the near future.

    I’m also guilty of never having heard of his sci-fi series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s just a couple of hours, and it’s a really neat read – do try it out if it strikes your fancy.

      Shadows of the Apt is fantasy, I’d even put it as military/political fantasy – generally WWII in ancient Greece nation-states with racial-ethnic groups divided according to their affiliation with an insect totem, where the affiliation is actually physical 😀 If this doesn’t excite your curiosity I don’t know what will – though, to be honest, despite my constant nagging that it’s a great fantasy series I was able to sell it only to a handful of people – don’t know why… 😂

      As for his SF, Children of Time is mostly about sentient spiders across their whole evolutionary history – from their acquiring sentience to the moment they reach the stars. Aand about humans, too – but spiders are by far the more interesting of the two 😂

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Don’t read too much into it – unfortunately, the city-states aspect is mostly political and strategical, i.e. lots of small city-states facing an invasion from a originally Roman-type empire changing along the way into very III Reich-type empire 😉 With magic, which fights the technological advancements of societies on the brink of industrial revolution (so called Aptitude which some of the races have – the former slaves – and some don’t – the former masters) It’s so cool!! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

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  7. buriedinprint

    This sounds just wonderful. I’ve not taken note of this writer before but will have a look when the bookshops are open once more. Also, I love the cover!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL, make space on your shelves then – he really likes to write big books, and his Shadows of the Apt series takes a whole shelf for itself! 😄
      Thank you! 😊

      Like

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