I’ve been hearing good things about British writer Adrian Tchaikovsky (Czajkowski) for some time. He is the author of several acclaimed epic series, including the ten-book Shadows of the Apt and three-book Children of Time. City of Last Chances is his most recent book and, so far, a stand-alone fantasy novel. I suspect there will be sequels.
The ancient city of Ilmar stands at a dangerous crossroads between magical worlds, and has many names, mostly uncomplimentary. The most recent in its long history of misfortunes is the replacement of a corrupt monarchy by an equally corrupt invader, a bureaucracy intent on forcibly Perfecting the citizenry. Neither the citizens of Ilmar nor its more arcane inhabitants appreciate this effort. Now various factions harboring a hodgepodge of more-or-less effective and misunderstood magics, are on the brink of rebellion.
The story is a politically and magically complex tale, told with seamless transitions between multiple points of view. The characters are all deeply flawed and occasionally unlikable, but they are fully human (mostly) and understandable. No one is particularly good, but no one is particularly evil either. They’re all just trying to get by in a city where perilous magic has been ignored for centuries and lots of wrongs are too entrenched to be changed.
The result feels like a cross between Les Miserables and Game of Thrones, with communism instead of an aristocracy, and written by Dostoevsky. The story is realistic and a bit violent, leaning toward horror but never quite getting there. Every description is laid like a building block in an intricate series of events. It is evocative, fast-paced, and surprisingly wise.