Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Solaris, ebook, £7.49
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Ogres are bigger than humans. They are stronger. Ogres rule the world, and humans stay in their place. But life in the village is good, provided they meet their landlord’s demands. Good, that is, until Torquell strikes his Ogre landlord’s son. Fleeing his home, Torquell unwittingly sets off on a journey to uncover the dark secrets at the heart of the Ogres rule and maybe change the world.
Part dystopian future, part sci-fi, Ogres is a masterclass in storytelling. Using the second-person narrative, we follow the misadventures of Torquell as he moves from idyllic village life to high-tech city life. Put like that, it seems like an extreme genre swing, yet as the story unfolds, each progression forward in narrative and technology makes sense. At no point was I overawed or confused by the leaps. This is Tchaikovsky at his best; the genre rules fit his story and not the other way around.
Ogres explores the theme of the Haves vs the Have Nots, a topic continually in our news. The Ogres have everything; land, education, science, meat, and humans are separated into land workers, factory workers, and even soldiers so the ogres can play at war. Kept downtrodden and in fear of their masters, the humans never rise up, although they are more numerous. All fight has been removed from them.
Tchaikovsky makes a case for education as a great leveller. Torquell bumbles from mistake to mistake until he is taken in by Ogress, Isadora, a scientist who collects humans with a keen mind. Under the supervision of Minith, Isadora’s human servant, Torquell learns to read and study human history from before the arrival of the Ogres in the land. I won’t go into too much detail because that would ruin the experience for you, but Torquell’s discoveries push him to rise up against the Ogres hoping for a better future.
Normally, I am not a fan of second-person present tense as a narrative style, but it works here, especially when you understand who is talking. That revelation made me go back over certain sections to see where the mysterious speaker gave details of Torquell’s life versus guessing his thoughts and feelings, where dialogue is used and where it isn’t. Ogres is so cleverly written that the clues are there all along. But, like a magician, Tchaikovsky encourages us to see what he wants rather than what is right in front of us.
At a time in our lives when the wealthy act as if they are above the law, and we’re bombarded with warnings about eating less meat to reduce global warming, Ogres acts as a warning against being told what to do and submitting our bodies to the extremes of science without question.