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.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Solaris (November 7, 2017)
Length: 200 pages
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.