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Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Book review

May 15, 2019

Book cover of Children of Ruin. Showing a space station under a red planet from which a bright light is shining

In Children of Time’s sequel, when Earth’s terraforming mission finds a world they call Nod, the intended transformation of the planet does not take place as expected. Then as Earth succumbs to catastrophe and contact with it is lost the decision is made to terraform a nearby moon and explore Nod more thoroughly. The decision to explore Nod will have catastrophic consequences for the members of the expedition. Meanwhile expedition member Disra Senkovi’s cephalopod experimental subjects develop into a legacy that no one could have anticipated. Then the descendants of Dr Avrana Kern’s mission appear. It is time for a potentially fatal showdown. But what will that mean for the future of the humans and the portiids, the beneficiaries of Kern’s legacy.

Children of Time was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Adrian Tchaikovsky has once again written a novel featuring an evolutionary story with interactions between humans and non-human protagonists which makes for a fascinating read.

It’s hard to think compassionately about an enormous spider in close proximity, but there’s a touching tenderness between some of the portiids and their human counterparts which really adds an interesting layer to the story. Although drawing the reader in through the developing relationships, Tchaikovsky stays true to the nature of the non-human participants and never anthropomorphises them. This adds a particular frisson because although you feel invested in this futuristic society, as a human reader you’re never left completely in a comfort zone of thinking you’ll know exactly what the non-human characters will do next.

By introducing the cephalopods who are communicating through colour patterns which the portiids and humans must learn to correctly interpret, Tchaikovsky has added not only a new participant in the story of species development, but one which might turn out to be friend or foe, depending on how effective the humans and portiids communicate with them. Certainly it is vital to develop a working understanding of the nuances of the light and colour language if they are to understand the complex society of the cephalopods and persuade them to overcome the all-pervasive and terrifying adversary unleashed from the world of Nod. Not to do so will spell disaster not only for Kern’s group, but also for Senkovi’s legacy.

This fragile balancing act of potential alliance, or war, as the two groups encounter one another and feel their way through the language barrier, understanding the way the different societies work and the ever-shifting balances of power, is at the core of the story.

As usual the author relishes a many-stranded narrative in which the strands in some way all link to one another. With Dr Avrana Kern as a very interactive AI, the reader has plenty to keep them occupied.

As with Children of Time, Children of Ruin’s complex plot means this is a story to be read again and see more with subsequent readings.

Children of Ruin was courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley.

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