Book Review: Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of After The War
Publisher: Solaris (July 31, 2018)
Length: 367 pages
I was not exactly disappointed by Redemption’s Blade, but having gotten a sense of what Adrian Tchaikovsky is capable of, I think I might have expected a little more from this one. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad book or even a mediocre one. However, by its very nature, the novel’s premise does not lend itself well to being something to get all that excited about.
For you see, Redemption’s Blade is very much an “aftermath” story. Most fantasy readers are familiar with the idea of the epic battle, or the final showdown that inevitably occurs during the climax of a 1000-page tome or at the end of the long and winding multi-book series. Picture if you will though, a war-torn world where this grand event has not only happened already, but is now more than ten years into the past. Evil in the form of the renegade demigod known as the Kinslayer was defeated, his armies of monsters vanquished back to the foul depths from which they came.
Celestaine was one of the heroes among those who triumphed that day, as the one who personally slew the Kinslayer’s dragon and thus single-handedly removing the tyrant’s most powerful weapon from the field. The Kinslayer himself was soon dealt with after that, and Celestaine became an instant legend. But now, a decade after her victory, our protagonist finds herself jaded with life, struggling to find a reason to keep on fighting. Surprising everyone, she falls into a peacekeeping role of sorts, becoming a champion for the Yorughan, a race of warriors who were forced into the Kinslayer’s service but were left flightless and abandoned after their side was defeated.
The concept behind this novel is a good one, I’ll grant it that. Most classic quest narratives involve our heroes seeking to make the world a better place by removing a source of oppression and misery, which in a lot of cases is the main baddie, but Tchaikovsky has taken this fantasy trope and given in a little twist. What happens when the villain is dead and gone, and the world is still a sick, sad and miserable place? Who do you blame, and what do you fight? The point is, even when you win you can still lose—a lesson Celestaine learned the hard way, when she realizes that while she and others may have beaten the odds that day by defeating the Kinslayer, the world is not a Disney movie where everything reverts to sunshine and rainbows with the wave of a magic wand. To a great extent, this is what made these people’s predicament so tragic and real.
Celestaine, however, was not a character I felt all that interested in, even though I could sympathize with her situation and plight. Despite the author’s attempts to subvert character and genre tropes, his protagonist was still pigeonholed into that boilerplate role of reluctant hero, and there weren’t really any extra layers of complexity to make her stand out. I felt much the same about the story, which featured a relatively light and straightforward plot. In some ways, it reminded me of those old RPG cliché joke charts, in which our questing party must visit 3-4 main locations in order to save the world/galaxy before joining the threads together again for the lead-up to the conclusion, a type of narrative structure that adds a lot of padding but not much actual substance. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the filler-y bits—this being a Tchaikovsky novel after all, he does world-building and character interactions wonderfully—but again, they lacked the depth I’d expected.
I think my problem is that Children of Time was the first book I ever read by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I loved it to pieces, and in a way, that will always be the bar by which I will measure all his other books. Probably not fair, but it is what it is. It’s not that I didn’t have a good time with Redemption’s Blade. In fact, I thought the story was very readable, punctuated by fun and clever wit in spite of the bleak setting. It was also a delight to try something so new and different by the author, but I just know this is not his top form. All the same though, I’ll still look forward to reading his work.