Cage of Souls


Adrian Tchaikovsky


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 3, 2022

age of Souls came out in 2019, and yet some I missed it. I saw it one day on the New In Paperback shelf at the library and immediately checked it out. I am a fan of Tchaikovsky, but sometimes I wish he wasn't so prolific! I still have Guns of the Dawn, Eyes of the Void and Children of Memory on my MUST READ SOON list - that is 1800 pages of story to be read, and there are still other novels by Tchaikovsky that I haven't even opened yet. Cage of Souls weighed in at 602 pages in the trade paperback edition. Fortunately, the story was intriguing enough to keep me racing through the pages of this long story.

Cage of Souls is a dark story. It reminded me of Mieville's classic Perdido Street Station - both novels are populated with monsters and evil characters in a dark, ornate setting. Some of the most foul monsters have human form, whilst other are augmented horrors with bizarre abilities. Some the most vile character are entirely human, yet inhumane in their monstrous deeds. It takes a lot of imagination to dream up such a fascinating world, but Tchaikovsky pulls it off. There are always new discoveries (however gruesome) for the reader to marvel at.

Cage of Souls is told in first person by the academic Stefan Advani. Advani lives at the end of time - the Earth's sun has grown ancient and it could expire at any moment. The long history of mankind is coming to a close - men have used up every resource, exploited very inch of the planet and now civilization has been reduced to a single city of a few hundred thousand remaining humans - Shadrapar - the last city, precariously balanced between a lethal seething jungle and a vast, trackless desert. Some powerful technologies still function in Shadrapar, but no one knows how they work, nor has anyone the drive to relearn the knowledge that has been lost. The elite of Shadrapar are engaged in endless, pointless squabbles over debt and status, while the lower classes eke out harsh existence beneath the poison rain and the terrors that live in the Underground.

At the start of the novel, Advani is being sent up the river - he has been sentenced to the Island prison, from which no one ever returns. The prison is a violent, ruthless place, where angry and dangerous men are held in check by the murderous Marshall and his squads of Wardens. Death is commonplace, and a scholar such as Advani has little hope of surviving long in such a dangerous place. He does have some skills - Advani has the rare talent of being able to read and write and he knows things learned in his classes, but such talents are not much use at the Island. Luckily, Advani has the ability to make friends - one of the new Wardens traveling on the prison boat to the Island is looking for someone to play chess with on the long journey. Having a Warden as a friend is a great advantage for Advani, but it is certainly not sufficient to make him safe. The Island sits in the river surrounded on all sides by a jungle that is populated with such fearsome creatures that anyone who dares to venture into will soon perish. Indeed, the river itself is inhabited by terrors - a giant serpent surfaces and attacks the prison boat, some of the prisoners don't even make to the Island to begin their sentence.

As the tale unfolds, Advani reveals the malevolent workings of the Island prison. He tells what crime caused him to be sentenced to such a terrible place. Through his story, the reader learns of the terrors of the Underground that exists beneath Shadrapar. He meets also sorts of strange characters, whom often have hidden abilities. Everywhere, there is peril, always, Advani is threatened. Unfortunately, he manages to make powerful enemies.

By the end of the novel, much is explained; the different threads tie together, though not every mystery is resolved. Tchaikovsky must have really mapped out the plotting in this book to tie together so many different characters and their story arcs. It is an impressive story. Now I have to find Tchaikovsky's next book.