Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published: 2 August 2016
The Church of Armes of the Light has battled the forces of Darkness for as long as anyone can remember. The great prophecy has foretold that a band of misfits, led by a high priestess will defeat the Dark Lord Darvezian, armed with their wits, the blessing of the Light and an artifact stolen from the merciless Spider Queen.
Their journey will be long, hard and fraught with danger. Allies will become enemies; enemies will become allies. And the Dark Lord will be waiting, always waiting…
A battle of light against dark featuring a fellowship of mismatched heroes and giant spiders may sound all too familiar, but buckle up because Spiderlight will take you on a ride directly through straight fantasy and into the realms of the really fantastic.
Thanks to a typically cryptic prophecy that the downfall of the Dark Lord will be brought about by “the path of the spider”, Dion, leader and warrior for the Light, allows herself to be convinced into forming a very uneasy alliance with the Spider Queen. The Spider Queen is essentially a more intelligent and therefore more devious Shelob who lives with her brood in the world’s version of Mirkwood. Narcissistic and unintentionally hilarious sorcerer Penthos transforms one of her brood into something resembling a man so it can travel with them and show them the path of the spider.
We switch perspectives between the literal spiderman Nth, and the rest of the team. The descriptions of poor Nth, whose shape doesn’t quite manage to hide his real nature, are often skin-crawlingly disturbing, which only serves to make the relationships that he does eventually form with the other members of the team all the more fascinating and far more complex than that of simply humans and tame monster.
There is the old Frankenstein question of whether the real monster is the monster or his creator, but far more than that, through Nth, we explore the psychological horror of being transformed into a foreign form and forced to interact with another species. Transforming creatures into another shape is of course a trope often used in fantasy as a simple means to an end and we are forced to see ourselves as Nth does, and realise that we see the creature being transformed as nothing more than an object; after all, nobody cared if the mice in Cinderella were driven insane by being transformed into horses. There are some startlingly insightful observations about how people decide if someone is “one of us”, and how they feel it’s acceptable to “other” them if not. Tchaikovsky uses Nth to explore some deep moral and ethical issues and bravely goes to some very unexpectedly challenging places where very few writers would.
While Spiderlight asks plenty of thought provoking questions, the banter and interplay between the band is brilliantly done and keeps things from becoming too grim. Intellectually challenged warrior Harathes, emotional intelligence free zone Penthos and the snarky grafter Lief are particular delights, especially as Lief is the kind of person who thinks introducing Nth to beer will make for a fun night out. All of the group quickly evolve from being the cookie cutter questers they initially appear into rounded characters with their own individual story arcs and journeys of self-discovery. It’s a darker, bloodier Wizard of Oz with our fellowship of the spider searching for faith, courage, and love.
Spiderlight is a brilliantly original novel, cleverly cosplaying as a traditional Lord of the Rings style fantasy just so it can sneak up on old tropes, knock them on the head and turn them completely upside down and inside out; it will in short, take you on a very unexpected journey.
GS Rating: 4/5
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)