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“Cage of Souls” by Adrian Tchaikovsky

cage of souls

The setting of this novel is significantly different to any of Tchaikovsky's previous books, it's a 'dying Earth' setting where even the Sun seems to be dying and what remains of humanity has forgotten most of its history. The story is split into two parts, the main portion tells of the narrator's efforts to survive exile on the prison colony known as 'The Island', that storyline being periodically interrupted as Stefan fills in the backstory about his life on what is probably the last city on Earth and how he ended up being exiled. There's a general tone of melancholy to the story, even the parts not set in a brutal prison, although there are still occasional moments of hope. It's a vividly described setting, particularly the inhospitable jungle surrounding the Island which is full of life, little of which is friendly, the Underworld beneath the city of Shadrapur is another fascinating part of the setting. While it's not a short book it's still impressive how many ideas Tchaikovsky manages to throw into the story, some of the subplots could have been the basis for novels in their own right. There are also a lot of interesting mysteries in the story, some of them crucial to the plot, many of which Stefan never finds out the answer to. I don't know if every reader is necessarily going to appreciate the lack of answers but I think it does work well - the book is more about figuring out how to survive than figuring out how the world works.

If I had a small criticism to make, it it that while Stefan does get some good character development throughout the story I think he's maybe not the most compelling of protagonists and he himself comments that he's often only peripherally involved. This is somewhat counteracted by it having plenty of memorable supporting characters and the Marshal and Gaki are very effective antagonists.

I thought this was a good book, although I might rank it slightly below some of Tchaikovsky's other books (such as Dogs of War of Children of Time), it is perhaps a bit slow paced to begin with although it does get more compelling as it goes along and does have a strong ending.

Rating : 8 / 10

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