An excellent stand-alone novel about war, family and sacrifice
Denland and Lascanne have been allies for generations, but now the Denlanders have assassinated their king, overthrown the monarchy and marched on their northern neighbour. At the border, the war rages; Lascanne’s brave redcoats against the revolutionaries of Denland.
Emily Marshwic has watched the war take her brother-in-law and now her young brother. Then comes the call for more soldiers, to a land already drained of husbands, fathers and sons. Every household must give up one woman to the army and Emily has no choice but to join the ranks of young women marching to the front.
In the midst of warfare, with just enough training to hold a musket, Emily comes face to face with the reality: the senseless slaughter; the weary cynicism of the Survivor’s Club; the swamp’s own natives hiding from the conflict.
As the war worsens, and Emily begins to have doubts about the justice of Lascanne’s cause, she finds herself in a position where her choices will make or destroy both her own future and that of her nation.
This is a superb novel. I haven’t read nearly as much of Tchaikovsky’s work as I would like, but this is a fantastic place to start. A fantasy war novel, but one that is focused on the impact of war more than battle itself. After a slightly slow start, this really grabbed hold of my attention and didn’t let up until the very end.
The novel can be split into three acts quite easily. First, we spend time with the main character as she sees the slow encroachment of the Lascanne’s war efforts on the home front. Emily must handle the attentions of the local administrator-in-charge (who has a long beef with her family), the worry over family members sent to the front, and brazen brigands. I was a little surprised by this part of the story — from the synopsis, I had expected things to move a bit quicker to the war. After adjusting my expectations, I sank into the story quite nicely. As the situation worsens for Lascanne, the King calls on families to send one woman or girl to train for the front. In act two, Emily ships out. This portion takes up the bulk of the novel, and absolutely shines: the plight of the soldiers, the desperation and madness of warfare and skirmishes, the propaganda and its short life when confronted by reality. We get to know Emily and her comrades; from the lowly private to the Survivor’s Club, each character is brilliantly written, vivid and interesting. The final act of the story… I’ll leave for you to discover, but needless to say it’s a superb, somewhat unexpected end to the novel.
In sum, Guns of the Dawn is fantastic, and one of the finest novels I’ve read this year. It’s long, sure, but as a stand-alone, it packs quite the punch and is an incredibly satisfying read. If you’ve never read anything by Tchaikovsky, this is a fantastic place to start, without the considerable investment of the ten-volume Shadows of the Apt. At the same time, I imagine reading this will make you run out to buy that series…
That’s a rather short review for a substantial novel, but really not much else needs to be said: Highly recommended, this is one of the best novels of the year. A must read.
Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s Guns of the Dawn is out now, published by Tor Books. Tor also published the author’s fantastic Shadows of the Apt series, stand-alone sci-fi novel Children of Time, and will publish The Tiger and the Wolf.