Last week I posted a rambling half-rant about Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. A few months after writing the first draft of that rant I conveniently read Spiderlight, a standalone novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky, who last year firmly established himself in my mind as an author I really like. Now, Spiderlight isn’t an exceptionally interesting novel. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed it a lot, and clearly Tchaikovsky had fun writing it. But it’s not a major novel of his by any stretch of the imagination.
I do however want to point at Spiderlight and say: hey, here’s a subversive fantasy novel that has a really clear idea of what it is setting out to do. It establishes a very archetypal fantasy setting and plot in the Dungeons & Dragons vein, with Light and Dark pitted against one another, and then steadily undermines that juxtaposition by presenting hypocrisies and omissions in that metanarrative. It crescendos with a similar reveal to The First Law trilogy, presenting a singular individual driving the engine of history and suffering. And then it resolves that revelation, folding it into the theme it has meticulously explored. All that in about a sixth of the wordcount of First Law.
I’m not saying Spiderlight is a better novel. It reads very much like someone’s mildly satirical AD&D campaign, right down to the mismatched party of six (priest, mage, warrior, ranger, thief, monstrous spiderling) and on-the-nose sendup of fantasy tropes. It doesn’t set out to do anything nearly as ambitious as Abercrombie’s reputation-making trilogy. It’s pure fantasy fun. But it is driven by an absolute clarity about what it intends to achieve, and it does so with a satisfying conclusion that is consistent with what came before.
(I hope to write more about Tchaikovsky soon. Dogs of War and Children of Time were two of the most memorable science fiction novels I read in 2018, and I devoured this year’s Children of Ruin within days of release. He really is rather good.)