Today, Sense of Wonder is doubly honored for Antonio Díaz reviews Spiderlight, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, for us and he does it simultaneously with Leticia Lara, whose opinion you can read at Fantástica Ficción. Hope you like it!
Review Soundtrack: Antonio suggests reading this review while listening to Wicked Hearts, by Dorothy (Spotify, YouTube).
Spiderlight is Adrian Tchaikovsky's most recent work. Known by his lengthy ten-volume saga Shadows of the Apt (whose first book I read and found very entertaining), he's also penned Guns of the Dawn, novel set in a more historical fantasy background, The Tiger and the Wolf, the first installment of a fantasy trilogy and Children of Time, one of last year's best space operas (you can read its review right here). In fact, odo already read Spiderlight a couple of years ago, when it was published in the Aethernet Magazine, and you can read his bit about it here.
There is a constant presence of animals in Tchaikovsky's work, particularly insects and with an extra emphasis in spiders. Tchaikovsky refers to himself as an “amateur entomologist”, a trait that has clearly affected his theme choice and his style. In his Shadows of the Apts saga itself this predilection can be appreciated. Each race in that world has an insect's name and shows its characteristics: ants that love teamwork, moths flying and living in darkness, insidious spiders, dangerous mantises, etc.
At first, Spiderlight looks like the umpteenth work derived from a pen and paper role playing game. In a reality where everybody is aligned with Good or Evil (alignment that can easily become known), we have the warrior defender, the seasoned ranger, the morally-grey thief, the wizard specialized in fire and the holier-than-thou priestess. All of them united in a common quest: to vanquish the Dark Lord. However, this is a book that breaks every cliché in order to innovate in a field that still needs new ideas. None of the characters are what they seem. They all break in some degree their stereotypes in order to show their true natures, which are more real and believable. Special mention to Penthos, the fire mage, whose twisted perception of the reality surrounding him makes for some of the best moments of the novel.
The main element of change in the novel, introduced in the very beginning, is the addition of a new member to the heroes of Light merry band: a monstrous spider, classical enemy in any role playing game. How is going to confront the inclusion – needed but forced on them – of these new member? Will they be able to succeed on their quest despite it all? And the spider? How does he/she/it see all this vanquishing evil business? To answer these questions, Tchaikovsky takes the reader in a trip through apparently-known landscapes with a fresh an unusual perspective.
The characters' depiction and their evolution is one of the strongest points of the book, but definitely the other is the humor. Spiderlight contains a lot of meta-referential humor, because it knows that is part of a genre full of topics and it plays with them in order to amuse and surprise the reader. The play between points of view is also very funny. Penthos, the wizard, has a skewed view of life that is hilarious and also the spider's inner monologue makes you laugh when it thinks about humanity. However, they're not the only ones, and also the “bad guys” have some of the best lines. For example, in this scene where one of the Dark Lord lieutenants talks to one of his subordinates:
“Feyn, Feyn.” Visler held out his hands appeasingly. “I need your help. It's all gone wrong, yes, yes. I've done something foolish.”
“Spare me.” Feyn knuckled at his forehead. “I wish I'd never sponsored you, you little tit. You know how much I get laughed at because of you? I could have had a bandit chief doing evil in my name, or a notorious assassin. Instead I've got a coward of an innkeeper who runs the worst fucking inn the world has ever seen”
Summing up, Tchaikovsky proves to be a great connoisseur of fantasy in general and the role playing world in particular. Spiderlight is a relatively short book with only 304 pages. Furthermore, it has an ending that seemed very plausible and incredibly satisfying. If you still haven't read anything by Tchaikovsky, this is, definitely, your entrance point. Spiderlight is some of the best fantasy I've read this year.