BooksOfTheMoon

Elder Race

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tchaikovsky. I love many of his ideas, and he’s a great writer, but he tends to take his work in a much darker direction than I enjoy. After Bear Head and (especially) Cage of Souls, I thought I was done with him. And then I read the description of this novella, and here we are again. Except this time, it turns out I quite enjoyed it.

It’s a story of Lynesse, the fourth daughter of the queen, always getting underfoot and and in the way, who decides to take action against the rumour of a demon stealing people’s minds when her mother won’t. She invokes the ancient pact with the last wizard of the Elder Race, whose tower is nearby. Except Nyr isn’t a wizard, he’s an anthropologist (second-class), who’s observing the locals while he waits for relief from an Earth that’s gone silent.

The book is told in alternate PoVs between Lynesse and Nyr, as we see how the young woman from a medieval culture sees the product of a science millennia in advance of her own – truly a wizard from Clarke’s point of view, and how the still-young Nyr tries desperately to fit the fact that he’s helping her, while not expecting there to actually be a demon of any kind, with his breaking of the Prime Directive.

At the same time, Nyr is in the throes of very deep depression – he’s used suspended animation to sleep away over three hundred years, and still no relief has come from Earth. The loneliness and lack of purpose are crushing, so he relies more and more on technology that disassociates him from his emotions, so that he can function. And that, of course, comes with its own problems. And while he’s going through all this, he’s learning about this young woman, Lynesse, who awakened him and dealing with the deep communication barrier, not just of language, but of culture and understanding. More than once he tries to tell her that he’s a scientist, not a magician, but all she hears is “I’m not a wizard, I’m a wizard”.

The threat they end up facing is quite icky, with a reasonable amount of body-horror. We don’t learn as much about it as I would like, but it’s not that kind of book. While being in the quest format, it’s much more about cultural communication and misunderstanding, and dealing with mental health issues. Internal issues, not external.

So Tchaikovsky gets a pass with this one. I’ll still be approaching his work with caution though.

Book details

Publisher: Tordotcom

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