This was bananas.
To be clear, I don’t mean ‘bananas’ in the wierd-fiction, ‘Authority’ kind of way, but in the ‘end up in a completely different space with all the Feels’ kind of way. I’m not going to say much without spoiling it, so I’ll put the whole review under spoilers.
The quick version: Dungeons and Dragons questing crossed with Ishmael.
I’m not one for epic-style fantasy these days; it feels terribly predictable and just isn’t where my interest lies. I somewhat reluctantly interrupted my PNR binging because of an Amazon sale, Tchaikovsky’s name, and friends at the Oasis. It opens with a chapter from a spider point of view, bringing to mind the sure-to-be-classic Children of Time, but before long, grows to include the viewpoints of an equally classic adventuring party of cleric, mage, thief, archer and fighter. There’s enough humor that I wondered if Tchaikovsky was channeling Terry Pratchett.
“She worried about Penthos. Mostly it was the unleashed power and the setting things on fire, but at the moment it was more that his desire to show off could compromise their quest.”
Then I remembered that Tchaikovsky isn’t a great fan of individual human behavior, recognizing our limitations. The human part of the adventuring party is filled with biases and self-righteousness. The Thief’s remarks often draw the reader’s attention into their foibles, but their own thoughts also betray them.
“She was constantly tempted to draw forth the disc of Armes and expose the monster to her faith’s holy Light, just to reassure herself that she had power over it.”
But I forgot that although Tchaikovsky isn’t as showy as some of my favorite authors, he often has a beautifully turned phrase. Granted, it’s usually used to tear into my empathy, but still.
“Gone the armored exoskeleton, so that all of him was one great wound waiting to be opened.”
Everyone in the party, save one, goes through an ethical crisis in varying degrees. I suppose that’s traditional as well, but in this case, we have Enth as the individual standing in for the normal philosophical explorations between party members.
“Everything in this quest had become an exercise in compromise, and every compromise eroded the vaunted purity of her status as a priestess of Armes.”
The humor becomes more of a memory as the journey continues, but still makes appearances:
“Then the two of them were out and on the streets of the holiest city in the world: a man-monster and a woman who punched monks.”
Then, Tchaikovsky does something quite masterful and quite heart-rending, at least to this reader who has over-developed empathy for the non-human. It was fucking brilliant, and I completely had to take a break.
The rest was a bit of plateau for me; not bad in quality or tension, but certainly not as emotionally impactful. The penultimate conflict was somewhat terrible in its resolution. I’d love to have the insight into Tchaikovsky’s thinking as he plotted it.
“And he understood, then, that what he was feeling now—what it was pushing him to do—might be magical compulsion, or it might be a choice made of his own free will, and he had no way of knowing which was which.”
Five stars simply for the abundance of emotions and thought.