Saturday, January 18, 2020

Review: Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Cage of Souls
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 602
ISBN: 9781788547376
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 4 April 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

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The sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in the verdant hell of the jungle's darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will meet with monsters, madman, mutants.

The question is, which one of them will inherit this Earth?

I’m not quite sure how to go about reviewing Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Cage of Souls. I was drawn to the novel by the premise. Set in the far future, the sun is bloated, Earth is dying and the last vestiges of humanity are clinging to a life built on the ruins of the civilisations that came before. Endlessly recycling and reusing the artifacts of ages gone by, the population of the last city on Earth exists within two extremes, both technologically advanced and primitive at the same time.

Cage of Souls is not the story of this world, not entirely, instead the world just becomes the background in the account of a single person’s life; the life of Stefan Advani an academic with the tendency of being absent at just the right time. It’s the chronicle of a life filled with hardships, tragedies and triumphs and the people he encounters on his journey. For good or ill, they all have a part to play in shaping his life and expanding his worldview. At the same time this is also a requiem for humanity as it lingers on the brink of oblivion, waiting for something else, perhaps something better, to inherit the legacy it leaves behind.
"For the stars are very far away, and however fast our machines carried us, it was not fast enough. The gaps between stars are so great that nothing can cross them quickly, not even light, which is fastest of all. We never found a way to skip between the stars to meet the people we were sure awaited us there. That broke the back of our optimism. The spirit of man was crushed by the distances between the stars."
This is a slow-paced, introspective read set in a fascinating world with a memorable cast of supporting characters. Don’t go in expecting lots of action or a happy ending. The story unfolds slowly as Advani recounts his past and the events that led to him being incarcerated in the inhospitable prison called The Island. He paints a grim picture of an unforgiving world evoking a sense of melancholy and dread. Here the journey is far more important than the destination. Tchaikovsky forces you to look inward, to contemplate the cages we build for ourselves, both personally and as a society. And that’s what makes Cage of Souls such a powerful read. The plot becomes secondary to the self reflection it inspires.

The slow pacing means this might not be for everyone, but if you stick with it this is a rewarding read in more ways than one. Once again Tchaikovsky astounds with his boundless imagination and versatility in his craft.

The Verdict:
Cage of Souls is a slow-paced, introspective read. It is very different from Children of Time in both tone and execution. Be prepared to take things slowly and enjoy the journey. There are some ingenious ideas being played with, even if some of them remain largely unexplored they are fascinating in the possibilities they hold. Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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