August 14, 2023

Review: Ogres

Ogres Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts out as one thing--or what the reader thinks is one thing--and turns into something very different by the end. The many layers to this plot and world are slowly and carefully revealed by the author, with all clues fairly set. It begins as a standard feudal fantasy, with the protagonist Torquell, the arrogant, entitled, clueless landowner's son, meeting the titular "ogres," the hulking monstrous owners and masters of his village. The ogre Sir Peter Grimes has come to collect his yearly tithes, bringing with him his equally monstrous and cruel son, Gerald.

This is the first hint that something is skewed in this bog-standard fantasy world, because the Grimes' vehicle, as described, sounds a lot like a car (or a SUV). The "ogres" are described as being ten feet tall, hulking, greedy and cannibalistic (after Torquell loses his temper and strikes Gerald, his father is killed and eaten to make an example). Torquell ends up killing Gerald and fleeing to join the outlaws in the woods. He is eventually tracked down and imprisoned in one of the ogres' cities, where he is taken into the household of the Baroness Isadora Lavaine. The baroness is a scientist with her own extensive estate, and it is there that Torquell slowly learns the truth behind his world.

This comes about halfway through the book, and we discover this is not a fantasy world at all--it's ours, a future post-apocalyptic dystopia. The full horrifying impart of what has been done is not clear until the end, but it involves genetic engineering in an attempt to save the human species and planet that also (intentionally) creates a master class and an engineered, docile serf class. (The Economics, as the engineered humans are called, are specifically said to be "small," presumably leaving less of an environmental impact. This, with the descriptions of the normal-sounding houses, vehicles, etc, along with the way the Baroness Isabelle treats her staff as pets, makes the reader wonder if the "ogres" are in fact normal humans and the "Economics" are artificially created hobbits.) But Torquell, as he comes to find out, is a throwback to the humans of old--both in size and aggression--and he starts a revolution.

This is a rigid, class-based world, with the "ogres" exerting tight control over what remains of the human population to prevent repeating the mistakes of the overpopulated, polluted, war-torn "Brink." Of course, their power has corrupted them entirely, and they engage in war games and rule over the "Economics" with a tyrannical fist. Torquell's revolution tears through this world, until the twist ending where he succumbs to the lure of the power offered him by the ogres, to keep the lands and villages he has won if he leaves the ogres alone from here on out. It is implied that if he does not, the ogres will use pre-Brink weapons, like chemical/biological agents and/or nuclear weapons, to stop him.

This is where the genius behind the author's use of second person to tell the story comes into focus. Because the second person narration is not Tchaikovsky being cute and artsy-fartsy. There is a hidden hand telling the actual story, a hand that is revealed to be the power behind Torquell's revolution, using him as a highly visible bomb-thrower until he succumbs to the lure of the ogres' power:

But when you're property, it doesn't matter if your owner treats you well or badly. The ownership is all. We don't split hairs about who is a better slave master. And you would have been the best owner of all, and that still isn't enough reason to keep you alive once you've decided that owning people is fine, just so long as it's you that owns them.

As you can see, there's quite a few layers to this story, both in terms of worldbuilding and themes. What is the nature of power, and can it ever be wielded responsibly? What is human nature, and are they destined to destroy themselves and the planet? Can the human species and the planet be saved, and who decides? There's a lot packed into this book's 159 pages, and all of it is worth reading.

View all my reviews

No comments: