I’m not really sure what’s happening with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Redemption’s Blade and the After the War series. While this is the first novel in a new series, the follow-up is already out and penned by someone else, science fiction (primarily) author Justina Robson. Whether this will be an on-going series to always feature different writers, I don’t know. But the world, as set-up by Tchaikovsky, has potential enough to support such grand ambitions.
The novel follows Celestaine, ‘hero’ of a war that ravaged the land. Along with a team of defectors and wounded, she attempts to ease her guilt-riddled conscience by finding a magical artefact to help her undo some of the war’s damage. Celestaine’s quest is a perilous one, as she and her companions discover that wars never end cleanly.
While there are some entertaining aspects and worthy philosophical thoughts littered throughout Redemption’s Blade, I can’t help but feel Tchaikovsky phoned this one in. I’ve read a number of the author’s previous novels (the last one being Dogs of War, which I loved, not to mention Children of Time, one of the best high-concept science fiction novels of recent years) and developed a real fondness for his work. But I’d leave this one off a list of recommendations. Redemption’s Blade is at best half-baked, at worst, unoriginal.
From start to finish, the novel feels interchangeable with any number of epic fantasies involving different magical races, a hero’s quest, a dark lord, and any other fantasy trope you care to think of. On the surface, you might think Tchaikovsky is inventive in his inversions – for instance, our hero is a female war hero and she indulges in a romance with an Orc-like creature. But ultimately, these playful twists are nothing more than a rushed paint job on old hardware.
The magic of the world is potentially fascinating, as is the set-up of gods and guardians, but we never get enough detail to really understand or appreciate either. How does the magic work? Are there limitations? What rules govern this world other than the whims of the author at a particular moment in time? Perhaps this is a side-effect of the multi-author series set-up, leaving things open for the next person to play with. Whatever the reasoning, Redemption’s Blade is a missed opportunity.
Tchaikovsky’s characters are his saving grace. While the world-building was entirely underdeveloped (it bears repeating that he is usually an exceptional world-builder), the cast of characters will more than draw you in, you’ll likely fall in love. They are fun and interesting, with flaws and interesting characteristics. The interplay of their relationships managed to hold my attention enough to reach the end of the book, for one. Despite the paint-by-numbers background they were slotted into, I genuinely cared for the protagonists, not to mention the fantastic side-characters of Dr Catt and Fish.
Verdict: If all you’re looking for is an easy read with some fun characters, Redemption’s Blade can easily scratch that itch. But if you’re looking for something with a well-crafted world and originality, try one of Tchaikovsky’s other books instead.