An excellent novella from one of the modern masters of fantasy/sci-fi
Ogres are bigger than you.
Ogres are stronger than you.
Ogres rule the world.
It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call.
Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.
But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.
Tchaikovsky’s latest novella is an intriguing, engaging examination of a whole swathe of human qualities — ambition, weakness, economics, and more. Interesting from start to finish, it’s packed with original spins on a number of fantasy/sci-fi features. Each year, the author publishes a new book that shows readers that his range is far larger than we already believed.
In this novella, Tchaikovsky offers a vision of world in which humanity is ruled by a class of ogres — bigger, stronger, meaner, more brutal than humans, they are at the top of the heap. Humans are chattel, as well as (in some cases) cattle; they are docile, obedient, and afraid. Until Torquell. After an altercation involving the ogre who rules over their land, Torquell lashes out and sets in motion a cascading series of events that could change everything. Through his experiences, we learn more and more about this world/reality: the history of the ogres, their rise and humanity’s fall. And also the truth of Torquell himself. If you’re even vaguely observant of contemporary Western politics, you’ll see clear parallels.
They have demanded for generations: can it not be slightly better for us? and been slapped down by the truncheon-wielding thugs the ogres employ as law-keepers. And then you arrive, and tell them that their entire bubble world is like a pot, only hot and seething because someone’s keeping the fire beneath it stoked. The question they should have been asking is, why is it like this at all?
It’s very difficult to talk about the plot without spoiling things (something I always struggle with, when it comes to reviewing novellas) — it is in the gradual stream of revelations that Ogres works so well. The punch of the ending would land very differently if you knew even a few of the stops along the way. Needless to say, Tchaikovsky builds the story brilliantly. Each character is fully realized on the page, even if their appearance is only fleeting, and through their inclusion in the story we learn more and more about the society, politics, and history of this reality.
One of the things I very much liked about the novella was the extent to which it comments on our current reality — in particular, in relation to capitalism and the expectations it has convinced us are necessary; but also some nice commentary on international relations and/or the history of war. (See, Tchaikovsky really knows how to pack in quite a bit into his novellas.)
The ogres have set up their pressure-cooker cities so that it’s work or die, and you come to them and say, what if… neither?
The writing is excellent, and the story pulled me along from the very beginning. Torquell’s experiences are a perfect vehicle to explain this world. He is a reluctant hero, but one who appears up to the challenge. The ending was especially good, as Tchaikovsky shows us just how predictable people can be, and the risks of raising up any saviour without recognizing their innate humanity and flaws. Definitely recommended. This is a must for Tchaikovsky fans, and also an excellent starting place (if you have somehow managed to miss his work…)
Also on CR: Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky (2012); Guest Posts on “Nine Books, Six Years, One Stenwold Maker”, “The Art of Gunsmithing — Writing Guns of the Dawn“, “Looking for God in Melnibone Places: Fantasy and Religion”, and “Eye of the Spider”; Excerpt from Guns of the Dawn; Reviews of Empire of Black & Gold, Guns of the Dawn, Children of Ruin, Spiderlight, Ironclads, Made Things, and One Day All This Will Be Yours, and Shards of Earth