Reviews

OGRES, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I’ve read only a handful of books by Adrian Tchaikovsky so far, but enough to expect a change in style and narrative perspective in each new work I pick up, and Ogres is no different, indeed. And while it would be difficult to pin this story down to a specific genre, there is the right amount or sheer weirdness in it that I feel it would be appropriate to classify it in one of its own.

Ogres starts like a fantasy tale, both in descriptions and mood: Torquell is the son of the village headman, and is what’s usually termed as a ‘lovable rogue’; he’s known for his scarce attitude toward learning or following in his father’s footsteps and even more for his reckless pranks, which are more often than not viewed with indulgent annoyance and the hope that he might one day grow into his expected role. Even his forays into the forest visiting the outlaws led by a certain Roben (here the tongue-in-cheek authorial divertissement is quite plain) is viewed as nothing more than the kind of youthful enthusiasm Torquell will one day outgrow. Hopefully.

But such an idyllic setting is marred as soon as we learn about the ogres: the real rulers of the world, the Masters everyone must obey and pay homage – and taxes – to. Ogres are bigger and meaner than actual humans (or monkeys, as they are scornfully called by their masters), their rule of the land a divinely bestowed right, their powers and appetites larger than life – sometimes extending to human flesh.  The arrival of Sir Peter, the village landlord, with his son Gerald, is the spark that will ignite once again Torquell’s fiery temper, leading him to an act that will forever change his life and propel him on a journey of discovery and change.

It’s with the appearance of the Ogres that the questions about this world start popping up: what, until that point, looked like a rural fantasy setting, moves toward a more modern territory with the appearance of cars, teeming cities and clearly advanced technology, so that I wondered about the Ogres’ nature and the true narrative placement of the story. Should it be considered a parallel, dystopian reality, or a SF story in which the Ogres are nothing more than aliens ruling the enslaved humans? Adrian Tchaikovsky dances around this issue for a long time, offering small details that manage to fill a little – but never completely – the picture: that is, until Torquell himself has gathered all the clues and finally arrives at the dreadful answer.

Torquell’s evolution, as a person, is the backbone of this novella, which feels quite tightly packed with information despite its brevity: he goes from happy-go-lucky, carefree youth to reluctant hero to charismatic leader, embracing the knowledge and thirst for learning that he had always spurned in the past, the process turning from a small pebble to an unstoppable avalanche and mirroring his rise as a leader with a growing following that threatens the status quo.  His journey allows the reader a closer look at this world, one where the huge social divide between the Ogres and their human subject is borne out of exploitation and fear, a world where failure to perform one’s assigned tasks results in savage mistreatment at best, or ends on an ogre’s table at worst. There are passages in which Torquell witnesses teeming slums, filled with hopeless people being worked to death, which might remind the readers of some Dickensian description of the industrial revolution, and others in which ogres fight senseless wars using humans as chess pieces on a board, their equally senseless deaths being nothing more than a game played by their masters.

All these revelations, everything that Torquell witnesses and learns, create an expanding picture that moves, slowly but surely, toward the final resolution, one that’s reached forging through a constant, oppressive sense of doom that is not lifted even when our “hero” amasses success after success, threatening the Ogres’ supremacy.  If there is any glimmer of hope visible at the end of this story, it’s a very remote one, and heavily dependent on our nature as people and on the troublesome realization that it might ultimately drive us to the extremes – and their consequences – depicted in this story.

My last, but by no means least, consideration about Ogres concerns the author’s use of the second person throughout the narrative – an unusual method, granted, but one which for me confers a feel of immediacy to the story that made it more real, more tangible: and in the end, where we learn who is addressing Torquell with that constant “you”, we are hit with the final, most unexpected twist in the whole story, one that would be a huge understatement to call ’surprising’. And one that proved to be the proverbial “cherry on top” of an irresistible narrative “cake”.  Superbly done indeed…

My Rating:

25 thoughts on “OGRES, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. That blend of fantasy and modern world makes me think of Crescent City witb angels, mermaids, fae and cars, smartphones…

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  2. I love stories like this, that lull the reader into believing one thing, then shift into something completely different. I will have to read this at some point, you’ve convinced me!

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  3. Ah Tchaikovsky really loves to combine fantasy with SF, I am starting to think. His other novella Elder Race also played around with that. I think I will skip this one because I also need to read his second Shards of earth book.

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  4. I’ve just finished Children of Time, and I thought that was way too long & repetitive. Could this have been trimmed back too? Anyhow, I’m wondering if I’ll ever read something else by him. What do you think is best, Children of Time aside?

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    1. Ogres is a novella, so it’s already trimmed down, I think. As for other Tchaikovsky works, it depends: I enjoyed Children of Time while I found that the sequel was “too long and repetitive” as you pointed out for book 1. And while I liked Shards of Earth very much, I could not “get into” the sequel, which seemed far too disjointed for my tastes. I might recommend Dogs of War, however, because it’s the one I have the fondest memories about 🙂

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  5. I am glad you enjoyed this one! It really was superbly done, and the second person is the right choice, I was immediately drawn into the story and you have the feeling to really be there (even if there are way more pleasant places to be, honestly!!). And amazing review!!!

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      1. So far I loved all the full length books I have read by him (I have read 2 or 3 of them, not really a lot), but with the short ones I usually love the idea and the development but on the level of pure personal enjoyment I am not really satisfied, at least not at 100%. And it was the case with this one too, even if I can’t really say what it didn’t work for me, because it worked but… It was lacking something for me to fall in love with it. And yes, I think that thia work is quite brilliant!

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        1. It’s always fascinating to see how different readers react to the same book – and it’s one of the reasons I so enjoy sharing thoughts with the community: while I enjoyed most of the books I read by Tchaikovsky, the longer works did suffer sometimes from “too much information syndrome”, while the novellas felt more focused, even though they lacked some elements that a full-length story possesses. At least with Ogres I had no complaints… 🙂

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  6. My experiences with Tchaikovsky seem very close to yours. I’ve only read 2 novellas (Elder Race and Made Things) and an anthology of short stories (The Private Life of Elder Things), and each of these were very different though I enjoyed them all, most especially the novellas. I was impressed both by how different the stories were and how much he seemed to pack into such a short format. I’d like to try this one. And one day I’d like to try some of his longer novel-length stories.

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    1. Tchaikovsky’s works are so different from each other that they often seem to come from different writers, but what I noticed is that his shorter stories are more tightly woven and end up working better than his full-length novel. Which does not mean that I have not enjoyed all his novels I read so far… 🙂

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  7. I can’t remember if I added this one to my TBR, but it sounds good and I’d like to try it. I guess I’m slowly getting into Tchaikovsky’s work. I’ve only read Elder Races so far, but I loved it.

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  8. I really like this author but he seems to put out such a lot of books, he must work like a maniac. This sounds really good, I can’t recall having seen it and I love the cover.
    Lynn 😀

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  9. Ah… I’m so glad that you enjoyed this one so much, Maddalena:)). I think this one is the best thing that I’ve read of his for a while. I loved Dogs of War and The Expert System’s Brother, but didn’t bond so much with the sequels of both. I didn’t get on at all with his epic fantasy series Shadows of the Apt, but have enjoyed pretty much everything else he’s written – particularly Children of Time and the Echoes of the Fall series.

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    1. I also loved Dogs of War (and now I’m curious about The Expert System’s Brother, of course), and if Children of Ruin and Eyes of the Void can be used as an example (at least for me), sequels are indeed not among the author’s best efforts. But this one worked beautifully for me, indeed 🙂

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      1. I completely agree with all of the above! And I do hope you get to track down a copy of The Expert System’s Brother – I think it’s one of his best stories. As ever, original, quirky and moving:)).

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