CAGE OF SOULS / AUTHOR: ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY / PUBLISHER: HEAD OF ZEUS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of those authors blessed with a constantly evolving and improving style. His latest novel Cage of Souls takes a very different narrative tone and approach to his previous books such as Guns of The Dawn or Dogs of War. Of all of Tchaikovsky’s work so far, this is perhaps the most challenging, up there with the likes of China Miéville, Brian Aldiss and Iain Banks in terms of flavour. It’s also one of his most rewarding works to date.
Cage of Souls is a post-apocalyptic science fiction tale, though in this case the apocalypse happened a long time ago. The sun is dying and so is humanity. Mankind is down to its last city, but the majority of the population don’t really seem to care. The bustling Shadrapur is filled with intrigue, squalor and squabbling people. Tchaikovsky has created a memorable place, packed with crumbling walls and overgrown pavements. The city's sole university is stacked with books that no one will ever read and knowledge that is not so much lost as it is ignored. Humanity, in its last days, has fallen to its baser urges, the trappings of civilisation barely hiding its savage and destructive heart.
The story follows Stefan Advani. When we first meet him, he strikes us as a hapless victim, on his way to the city’s only prison. A floating mechanical island where the ruling class of Shadrapur send its more problematic denizens in order to forget about them. The main thrust here is how Stefan survives; he’s a scholar and an intellectual rather than a murderer or monster. Stefan’s journey is a painful one - he is utterly unprepared for prison life, and the last jail on Earth is filled with horror and mystery. This, more than anything, is what makes the book so mesmerising. Stefan’s story is filled with twists and turns and, just as we think we have a handle on the world, something else happens and all our assumptions change again.
Tchaikovsky’s world-building here is breathtaking. As one might expect from Mankind’s last society, the people of this strange Earth are very different. The ecology of the planet has changed so much as to be alien, and humanity operates on so many false ideas that you have to keep reading simply to find out more. The author throws many ideas around, teasing the reader from scene to scene with different ideas. It’s a joy to work through, though the story itself is very dark.
Cage of Souls is a fascinating read and strong ecological tale. Recommended, especially for those of us planning long journeys to hot climates.