This is a book about ‘what comes after’. After the big battles and the world-shaking events, when life is supposed to go back to normal, whatever that is or can be once the land is drenched in blood and everywhere death stands triumphant.
This is a book about ‘what comes after’. After the big battles and the world-shaking events, when life is supposed to go back to normal, whatever that is or can be once the land is drenched in blood and everywhere death stands triumphant. Celestaine played the biggest of roles in that ‘before’ time, her sword raised against dragons and even the Kinslayer himself. Now, lost in a meaningless life, she seeks a cause to fight for, one which can bring back hope to a whole race de-winged by the cruel games of the Kinslayer, and in doing so, give herself something to believe in and a reason to live again.
Now doesn’t that sound like a premise and a half? It’s a hook that got me. So rarely do readers get to know what follows, the future assuming some kind of rosy glow, the promise of better things. Adrian Tchaikovsky is having none of that shit. This is a bleak world, so emphatically damaged by war that parts of it are forever burning. Races of people have been twisted and broken, monsters freed to roam. People are not living their happy-ever-after, some are fighting to rebuild, some to stay alive. This was the author’s best work, a world that felt full of diverse creations and layered with misery. There was a sense vastness beyond the boundaries of what the reader was seeing that instant, people living stories of their own in devastated and dangerous landscapes. Even if there was a tendency towards generalisation that grated, a this-race-tends-to-be-like-this kind of characterisation, the world felt full of potential.
The choice of characters was less so. Despite being the main POV, Celeste was probably the least interesting of the accidentally heroic company. She has a dangerously awesome blade that can cut through pretty much anything and this, plus her past deeds, seems to be her main qualification for acting the self-appointed champion for the Aethani. In all fairness, her struggle to evaluate her own motivations, from self-interest to genuine desire to help others, provides the main thread of the equivocal morality which underlies the whole story. Throughout the book, the author attempts to overturn all kinds of fantasy tropes and the question of why people do what they do, from undertaking quests to helping a friend, was certainly developed well through the thoughts and actions of the different characters. I would have liked to hear more from the two Yorughan who accompany Celeste, apparently honoured servants of the Kinslayer who switched sides at the last minute to help in his murder, especially considering one of them is her lover, an interesting choice which is barely touched upon. Another duo is borrowed straight out of Malazan. A clever and quirky purveyor of magical artefacts who exchanges dry repartee with a servant who is so very clearly more than he seems… Now if you’re going to base your comedy pair on anyone, Tehol and Bugg are superb choices, but the closeness of the humour and the mirrored relationship somewhat undermines the reveal at the end of the book into more of an ‘oh really, I’m SO surprised right now’ moment. However, they were pretty funny, showing up at the most unlikely times and tending to make the situation ineffably worse- it provided a welcome break from the more depressing woe-is-me contemplation of the main group.
Plot wise, the book is light. The difficulty of a linear narrative that had the band following the path of a magical, mystery crown, was that it became a series of set-piece events or battles with the faintest of connections between them. It seemed like the author decided he wanted some fighting underground, some political machinations and a bit of fighting in a city, magical battles in a castle, a dark wood with spider creatures, etc…. and then joined them together afterwards with a bit of travelling from here to there. Don’t get me wrong, the action parts are good, exciting and brutal, but they’re too contrived, there to show off, not to advance the story in any significant fashion. Along with the patchy writing style, it added to the feeling that there just wasn’t enough to hold the story together, a pointlessness enhanced by the borderline grimdark ending. The underlying sentiment of the book is basically: what are we doing here, nobody really cares, and it’s not going to work anyway. That does work a little is a bit of an accident and almost an insult. The ending suggests more to come, but I’m probably not going to be there to read it.
ARC via Netgalley
Review by Emma Davis
David from United Kingdom
An excellent first novel in the "After the War" shared world series from Solaris Books. Author Adrian Tchaikovsky introduces us to a fantasy world where the big battles are over, the great Evil has been defeated and....what next? This is a tale of aftermath, of a world trying to put itself back together after ten years of brutal warfare. And as for the heroes who defeated the big baddie.....what now for them? Does a world need heroes when all it wants is to heal? Tchaikovsky's heroine, Celestaine, helped to defeat The Kinslayer, one of the immortal Guardians who roam the world, with the help of two of the Yorughan sent to torture and kill her. Now she seeks to make amends for what The Kinslayer did to the noble Aethani, winged humanoids of great sophistication who were brutally cast down, wings clipped, their lands destroyed. She and her companions seek the Kinslayer's crown, to use its power to heal the Aethani. But someone else also seeks it and so begins a long chase through the broken world into the Unredeemed Lands where nightmare creatures still roam the earth. There are brutal action scenes alongside moments of real humour and deep philosophical questions about the nature of war, of vengeance, of the cost of peace and the sacrifices to be made to remake a world. Above all, its a great read. The pace is swift, the characters well drawn and the dialogue well written. The next book is by Justina Robson and carries on the story with new characters and settings, so I look forward to reading that one too. I hope Tchaikovsky returns to this tale at some point though, because he's really very good at this.
6.8/10 from 2 reviews