Novella Review: Ironclads 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.

Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Solaris (November 7, 2017)

Length: 200 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It’s always somewhat challenging to review a shorter work like this. Over the past year I’ve become quite a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky which has led me to sample as many of his books as I found interesting, hence Ironclads. But considering the length constraints of a novella, developing a strong storyline and deep realistic characters can be tricky.

The book is set in a near-future version of our world in which the government of the United Kingdom has all but dissolved along with many other countries, bought up piecemeal by the powerful American corporate conglomerates. A new elite class has emerged, called the “Scions”—essentially the children of the super-rich who can afford the protection and security of mecha-like suits that make them practically invincible on a battlefield, which is pretty handy indeed with war raging all across the planet.

For the ordinary grunts like Sergeant Ted Regan, however, the fighting is as dangerous, brutal and ugly as it’s ever been. Now his squad has been called in for a special mission to investigate and track down a Scion who went missing somewhere in Scandinavia where the Americans are at war with the Nordic alliance. Together with his teammates plus a corporate liaison cast out by her bosses, Regan must trek across enemy lines to recover a lost rich kid whose supposedly impenetrable armor should have made him invulnerable.

As always, the author is a wizard with his world-building, constructing a strong framework in which to set this tale. The future in Ironclads is bleak, but also strangely alluring, in an imposing, terrifying kind of way. Yes, the inegalitarian conditions are horrific, but Tchaikovksy has also packed this dystopian world with a lot of impressive and awe-inspiring elements. In a word, his ideas are just so…well, cool. After all, it’s hard not to get excited over anything related to battle suits and giant robots and superhumans and the like.

Other aspects of the book are a bit light though, I’m afraid. Again, I understand the challenges of a novella when it comes to developing a solid plotline and full-bodied characters, but I didn’t feel like these areas were prioritized. Ironclads is heavy on the action, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I also know that Tchaikovsky is capable of a lot more. Sure, the book is interesting enough and the action sequences help keep the momentum going, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing to write home about. Strip away the fascinating premise and the aforementioned cool world-building elements, and what you’re left with is a storyline that’s actually rather thin. And it’s the same with the characters. There’s not really enough time to explore them in any kind of keep or meaning way, so the narrative is forced to fall back on some predictable patterns, like old soldiering tropes and other clichés.

Don’t get me wrong, Ironclads wasn’t a bad book by any means, but let’s just say I knew what I would be getting when I went into this, and the quality of the experience ended up being in line with my expectations. There simply wasn’t enough time for the story and characters to develop into something more, and the heavy emphasis on action probably got in the way of that too. It’s also why I’m typically not big on novellas, though the excellent world-building by Adrian Tchaikovsky was definitely a highlight of this one. Fans will find Ironclads perfectly enjoyable, even if it’s not his most memorable work.

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24 Comments on “Novella Review: Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. This is one I have not gotten my hands on yet. I do want to read it though, as I’ve 4 books of short stories set in his Apt world coming up and I’ll need something to between them so I don’t burn out on short story collections.

    It struck me as amusing as what you listed as things you didn’t care for would fit me perfectly 🙂

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  2. I’m going to finally be picking up one of his books soon, and I’m looking forward to it. He just seems to be everywhere these days! Looks like this is an older novella, which could mean he’s gotten better since then.

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  3. I understand how such an intriguing (if bleak…) world would beg for a deeper exploration and more detail than a 200 pages novella can offer, as I understand your frustration in wanting more from an author you enjoy and *know* can do much more… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I want to pick up something written by him asap but still haven’t. Sorry to hear the issues you had with this one but it’s nice that you always remind us that it’s probably due to the format and not the author/the story’s fault! Great review!

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  5. I actually haven’t read this one yet, something about it just doesn’t seem to click with me – maybe because I sort of expect other things from Czajkowski than thin, action-packed story 😉 Still, seeing as my misgivings may be well founded, I’m willing to give it a chance – now I know exactly what to expect 😉

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  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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