This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Ogres will be released March 15, 2022.
Adrian Tchaikovsky has only come to my attention in the last couple of years, but he’s quickly becoming a must-read author. After loving a pair of wildly different sci-fi tales in Children of Time and Elder Race, I submitted an ARC request for Ogres without even bothering to find out what it was about. Unsurprisingly, I did not regret it.
Ogres is a relatively short novella set in a world where humanity is subjugated to a towering race of ogre overlords. The second-person narrative tells the story of a mischievous adolescent growing into a champion for the human cause—a journey that begins when the lead assaults an ogre in a fit of anger and grows into a tale that threatens to shake the very foundations of society.
I am not typically averse to making comparisons between books, but it’s rare to feel them flooding out like they did as I worked through this novella. Of course, dystopian societies in which a lower class is kept oppressed and ignorant are not unusual—I read another one last week, and while that comes immediately to mind, it’s hardly a unique point of comparison in the setup. But the tone of the narrative in Ogres contrasts strongly with my expectations of the subgenre. Yes, the main character has his moments of rage, but this is not a hot-blooded, angry story. Even when the plot justifies such a tone, the second-person narration creates emotional distance. It’s not something that will work for everyone, and I’m not even sure it would’ve worked for me if extended over hundreds of pages. But in a short novella with high-quality, immensely readable prose? I found it effective, and it reminded me of 2021’s Hugo-winning novella, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which tells a similarly epic tale using an unusual narration structure that gives the tale a quiet feel. Both books grow into titanic events with plenty of emotional impact, but in each case, the narrative is presented in such a way that the story sneaks up on the reader.
In addition, Ogres features several instances where the reader has access to key context that the main character lacks. So part of the story is watching as the character figures out what the audience has already realized. One encounters something similar in both Piranesi and The Steerswoman, both of which I enjoyed immensely, so it serves as no impediment for me, but other readers may respond differently. Of course, the entire novella comes in at just over 100 pages, so any such sections are short enough that even a reader who dislikes this sort of subplot will not have their patience tried for long.
Ultimately, though the build may be slower and more quiet than expected, Ogres grows into a gripping tale that packs an emotional punch and delivers plenty of social commentary. The unusual stylistic choices may be a deal-breaker for some readers, but the second-person narrative is expertly told and justifies its existence in spades in the denouement. I haven’t read anything by Tchaikovsky that’s been short of excellent, and that hasn’t changed a bit with Ogres.
Recommended if you like: novellas that play with form, slow builds, social commentary.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s undoubtedly hard mode for Revenge-Seeking Character. There’s also a nontrivial Forest Setting and arguably a sci-fi/fantasy Genre Mashup. Next year‘s Bingo board will be released in April, but it will doubtless fit the ever-present Current Year (2022) Release.
Overall rating: 18 of Tar Vol’s 20. Five stars on Goodreads.