This, then, is where I think I close at last my weary eyes, lay hand upon my brow and reflect on how it is I came to this place. Many times I had occasion to peruse and linger over the written word with Nataliya, but never had one tome taken so much energy. I knew as my superior in determination and speed she had far surpassed me though we had started on this journey together. Still, I was secretly delighted when she too faltered and stepped away from the book, unable to continue.
And there, my friends, is where I leave Cage of Souls, not at all guiltily, and not at all unhappily. One day, perhaps, I may return. Tchaikovsky left numerous bread crumbs hinting at enticing science fiction-y tidbits: web-spinners in the forests, a literally dying sun, apocalyptical climate change, and mental powers. Alas, then, that at page 171, or only 25%, I had only hints of any of those things. What I did have is 171 interminable pages of approaching and then staying in a floating prison from the first-person perspective of the narrator. Who, perhaps not coincidentally, is more than a bit of an ass, although as he describes the group initially:
“Convicts all, bound for a final exile, and your narrator one of them. There are extenuating circumstances.”
It quickly becomes apparent that if not unreliable, our narrator is at the very least vain and hesitant to expose any of the qualities in himself that he considers weak. He is the essence of Victorian man, measuring all others against self in terms of breeding, character, economic status and so forth:
“Peter Drachmar had one quality that annoyed me from the very moment we met and persisted throughout our acquaintance. Sitting across from him, I knew myself to be his superior in education, in breeding, in understanding and in knowledge. Peter, on the other hand, had an unrefined, pragmatic intelligence that gave him the edge with people and with chess. He was beating me five games to nothing.”
In other words, he’s a challenging person to hang with, and that only grows more true as time passes and we listen to the gerbil wheel of his thoughts–because it is mostly thoughts.
“That’s the reason for this place. People who come here are forgotten instantly. They pass from the mind of the city. This is the oubliette, the cage of souls. The whole city knew my name once.”
Honestly, it’s almost as if Tchaikovsky got into Stefan Advani’s head and on the gerbil wheel so long that he forgot about plotting. It’s very well written in a style that very much reminds me of old-timey literature (I’d say nineteenth century, but I’m sure someone would correct me). The section I read might be a Heart of Darkness parallel (although I’ll note that was a novella), but since I haven’t read the original, I really couldn’t say. But I mention this kind of thing so that you know that if you are the kind of person that loves that old-school lit crossed with vague science fiction, perhaps along the lines of Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book, this might be enjoyable. As it was, it was heavy for me. Grim, depressing, vivid; there is no doubt this came alive in my mind, and there is no doubt that Advani was not yet a heroic figure when I stopped. Kind of like descending the fungus-covered halls in Annihilation: I was 100% in the atmosphere of the book and kudos for that, author! But I’ll be shelving you. Until Natailya and I brave the darkness again.