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Book Review

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Cage of Souls (Hardback)


Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Head of Zeus
606 pages
RRP: £18.99
ISBN: 978 1 78854 724 6
Publication Date: 04 April 2019

A bloated and dying sun hangs in the air of Earth, itself a waiting room for humanity’s demise. Confined in the city of Shadrapar, the last 100,000 humans fritter away their years, slowly loosing knowledge, even of the machines they use. Stefan Advani, part rebel, part prisoner, chronicles the profound changes the Earth is undergoing and the meaning for humanity.

Cage of Souls (2019. 602 pages) is a dystopian science fiction novel, written by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

By the time the novel opens many human civilisations have risen and passed. The last city of man is built upon the bones of past cities and one of the main sources of income is finding working artefacts. As mankind is intellectually regressing, the weapons in the story range from powerful laser-like pistols, to more basic flintlocks.

The book is split into distinctive parts, determined by their physical location. When the story opens, Stefan has been condemned to the Island, a great floating penal colony where brutality is normal and life expectancy short. Luckily for Stefan, he is an educated man and so finds employment. He also makes friends with one of the workers. After charting the brutality of the Island the book then goes back in time to describe the actions which condemned Stephan. We spend some time in the underworld, though we keep returning to the Island.

The book has many great ideas and the growth of the jungle which attempts to replace the vacuum left by mankind is reminiscent of Ballard’s, The Drowned World. Both describe the abundance of weird creatures which nature throws up to inhabit the growing jungle and examines mankind’s reaction to this explosion of life.

There is little doubt that this is a long book and the author packs it with many interesting ideas, though some of them go nowhere. In the end, when you peel away the descriptive world building, you're left with a standard science fiction story.

This becomes a bit of a problem as the central narrative is not sufficiently dramatic, making the book a slow read. However, I feel, personally, that the central protagonist is not compelling enough to sustain the book.

The story is told as if Stefan is writing down his own reminiscence of events, and so he has an irritating habit of introducing characters and places, letting us know that they are important, but refusing to say how and why straight away. Worse, as the focus of the book, Stefan is easily the most passive character. Things happen to him rather than Stefan informing or pushing forward events. It makes it very difficult to feel any empathy for his predicament.

I think that Tchaikovsky is a very good writer, and I have enjoyed other books he has written, but Cage of Souls had a lot in common with the sun, bloated and slow.


Charles Packer

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