Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

But enough about me -- let's get down to some reviewing. Specifically, my putative Hugo nominees. The only one on my reading list that has blown me away so far is Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Spiderlight, which I love with all my heart at the moment. There’s something joyous about the way a compatible book drags you into its spell, cancelling out the last several incompatible books that nearly made you swear off print.

In Spiderlight, a D&D party (cleric, mage, a warrior of each gender and a rogue) out to slay a Big Bad heads into the forest to acquire a fang from the Mother of Spiders. You may be thinking to yourself, oh yeah, I read that book – probably a couple hundred times, but you haven’t. First of all, there’s Enth, a stalwart spider warrior who gets transformed into a human-like biped and serves as the party’s hostage on the way to meet up with the Big Bad. Enth has exactly the kind of interior monologue a giant spider transformed into a human would have. I mean, Tchaikovsky has this thing for spiders, and probably knows more about them than your typical writer. His spider characters are a little bit like the Watership Down rabbits, or the dinosaurs in Raptor Red – believable, three-dimensional non-human creatures that are simultaneously relateable and genuinely alien.

Then there are the D&D party members: the arrogant mage, the insufferable cleric, the beer-guzzling rogue, the lady warrior trying to impress on the dude warrior that it was a one time fling. Their characters are rich and three-dimensional and alive as they bicker and power trip and make fumbling passes at each other. I applaud this. It is rare for a story to ponder how all the characters mesh with each other rather than having them all circulate around the hero like obssessive satellites.

And then, even beyonder, is the dark-versus-light stuff. Enth, being a big scary spider, is dark by nature. The cleric would just as soon see him dead, given his innate scary darkness. This theme keeps reappearing, such as when the party debates whether to slay some of the big bad’s servants, and it all bubbles to a head with some vicious philosophy wars during the climactic fight scene. This is the facet that really knocked my brain for a loop and made me fall in love with the book. There are lots of little ethical situations that arise, and the characters deal with them in interesting and thoughtful ways.

Even though I’ve heard rumors it may not be eligible due to seeing print in the UK before the allotted time span, I’m nominating this one for a best-novel Hugo due to the abundant sheer enjoyment factor. If you like spiders, D&D, thinking and/or books, check it out. 

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