Monday, June 13, 2022

Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250768728, November 2021

Lynesse Fourth Daughter is not her mother's favorite daughter. Indeed, she's barely acceptable, not learning to be diplomatic, reliable, a potential leader of the nation of Lannesite, which her mother rules. Indeed, she has done shocking things, like walk up the mountain to the tower where the sorcerer, Nyrgoth Elder lives. The sorcerer hasn't emerged since the days of Astresse Once Regent.

Lynesse's first trip up the mountain was as a child, just to see the tower and possibly the sorcerer. Court functionaries etched her down, and she got in the worst trouble ever.

Now, as an adult, she has headed back up the mountain again, with serious intent, because something monstrous is attacking neighboring polities, sending refugees fleeing to Lannesite, and her mother the Queen, and her advisors, think it's just the normal contentions among the lesser polities of Ordwood. They'll take in refugees, but not mobilize to take any action against the claimed demon, who surely doesn't exist. Lynesse has gone to the tower to awake and summon the sorcerer.

Nyrgoth Elder isn't a sorcerer. He's an anthropologist, second class, and when awakened from stasis, he's feeling very isolated, suspecting that the authorities that left him there may no longer exist.

He tries to tell Lynesse and her companion, Esha Free Mark, that he's a scientist, not a sorcerer, but all the words that might mean scientist are heard in their language as magician or sorcerer. And he did, more than a century ago, promise Astresse Once Regent that if her people ever needed him again, he would come.

Lynesse's people know a version of the truth--that her people were brought here across the sky, many generations ago, by an Elder Race, of whom Nyrgoth Elder is the last survivor. But with no advanced technology left, or even remembered as magic the sorcerers worked in the old days, it means soemthing very different to them than it does to Nyrgoth. He thinks that, quite possibly, this new "demon" is the same thing as last time, when he rode with Astresse regent against another "demon" enemy--someone who had found and gotten control of useful old tools that were easy to misuse as weapons.

Reluctantly, he heads off with Lynesse and Esha, to find out what's wrong in Ordwood, if it's really a danger, and if it's something he needs to do something about.

What they find is truly horrifying, and neither the demon Lynesse expects--though her culture has no other possible name for it--nor the advanced technology that Nyrgoth expects, and would know how to control and deactivate. The three of them, plus another companion acquired along the way, Allwerith Exiled, have to keep marching forward, to find the source of the thing that's consuming people, plants, animals, and inanimate objects and combining them into horrific, not-dead structures. And then they have to find a way to fight it.

This is a simple story, very much in the form of a fairy tale heroic quest, but it's a very lived-in world, with a history, and local cultures, and people with complex and interesting personalities.


I received this story as part of the 2022 Hugo Finalists packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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