By Adrian Tchaikovsky
© 2019, Ebook format
File size 1865 KB
It’s easy to see why this book was shortlisted for the 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Award. This is an intricate story, part fictional memoir, part dark dystopian ecofiction with touches of horror. There were elements of the tale that read like a Darwinian treatise (which I loved), where the author described the environments and how they had affected the lifeforms therein. I found it reminiscent of the Southern Reach trilogy at times, with wild and unknown/unknowable creatures found in the deadly wilderness. The narrative captured my interest and held it throughout most of the book.
Told in first person narrative through the eyes and experience of the main character, Stefan Advani, we relive his early life, his fugitive period, his imprisonment on The Island, and everything that follows. The story does not follow a linear path but bounces back into his history in logical progressions where that information is necessary to the understanding of the present. Advani is an admitted scholar cast into the midst of criminals, fugitives, and killers, and must find a way to survive. His telling of how he came to be in that situation is well-constructed, multi-layered, and carefully woven, not necessarily to cast himself in the best light but to make for a better story. Suggestions later in the book that indicate Advani might be an unreliable narrator are foreshadowed earlier on, when he tells the reader flat out that he embellished his tales to his fellow inmates to make them more interesting. I enjoyed the thought that some or all of his fictional “memoir” might be more of the same. But he’s also a man in the crucible, and my desire to know whether and how he survived kept me reading late a few nights.
For the most part, Cage is a slow burn, a character-driven tale, exactly the kind of thing I love from time to time. The action scenes, when they happen, explode onto the page with little warning in fast-paced, short sentences. Of course, Advani–a scholar who admits freely that he is not a man of action–being the narrator of these dramatic scenes sees everything happening at once. A few times, his account was hard to follow. Other times, I found myself wanting to skim these segments to pick up only the essential information in order to continue the rest of the story. This was, for me, the only drawback, as I felt shoved out of a deeper, more thoughtful narrative into dynamic violence, sometimes with monstrous beings we can only imagine in our nightmares.
However, Advani’s deeper insights into the nature of those around him as well as himself, his reflections on events that transpired, whether true or imagined, made this book a delightful read. I will certainly check out more of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work.