This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. And Put Away Childish Things will be released on March 28, 2023.
Adrian Tchaikovsky has become a bit of an auto-read for me, after I absolutely adored the first three books I read by him—Children of Time, Elder Race, and Ogres. Given his talent with the novella form, it wasn’t a hard decision to check out his dark portal fantasy And Put Away Childish Things.
And Put Away Childish Things stars the host of a children’s program and grandson of a relatively famous children’s author. Perhaps he’s a bit entitled, a bit bitter about his inability to break into serious acting roles, but he muddles through and puts on a happy face for the kids. But just as the world grinds to a halt amidst a global pandemic, he finds himself catching the attention of those who believe his grandmother’s portal world of Underhill might’ve been real all along.
Tchaikovsky has a penchant for jaded protagonists, often—though not always—coming with a narrative style that puts some emotional distance between the reader and the lead. In practice, it means that the characters will rarely be the selling point. They may be well-drawn, but they’re not lovable (setting aside the lead of Elder Race, who provides a deeply sympathetic portrait of depression). Instead, the way he builds worlds or explores concepts takes center stage.
And he’s pretty reliable for building stunning worlds or exploring interesting concepts, which combined with his typical quality storytelling makes for some great books. But the dark portal fantasy concept is well-trod, and even as the storytelling stays strong, it makes for a story that lacks wow factor. The lead isn’t likable, and it’s clear from as early as the blurb that the portal world will be (1) real and (2) terrible. And I’d read enough of Tchaikovsky to seriously narrow down the field of potential resolutions.
The discovery process is still pretty engaging, because it’s written well and because the magic of discovery is one of the most fun parts of speculative fiction. And there are certainly a few clever details in the specific way in which the portal world is bad, and in how that affects its denizens. But without real investment in either the character or the world, the denouement feels overly protracted, even at novella length.
Clearly, I’m personally running into a problem of diminishing returns. I’ve read enough Tchaikovsky to be accustomed to the jaded protagonist and to make a good guess as to the tale’s ultimate direction, and I’ve read enough portal fantasies that the trope subversion doesn’t offer much wow factor. Perhaps a reader new to either element experiences that wow factor that I’m missing. There’s certainly no lack of quality in the storytelling. But for me, it’s merely good, not exceptional.
Recommended if you like: jaded protagonists, dark portal fantasies.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Standalone, Mental Health, Family Matters, and Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey; it also features an Antihero and a Revolution or Rebellion
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.