Book Review: Elder Race

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Elder RaceElder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published by Tordotcom on November 16th 2021
Pages: 201
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Source: NetGalley

In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Elder Race, a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe.
Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.
But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).
But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

Elder Race is the first work of author Adrian Tchaikovsky I’ve ever read. Judging from the blurb of the novella, I was expecting more of a fantasy story, with a twist. However, I quickly found that there was much more to this classic tale of the princess asking the hermit wizard to save the day, and that the story was definitely more of a take on a science fiction.


The main protagonists of the story are Lynesse the Fourth Daughter and the wizard in question that she turns to in order to save her people, Elder “Nyr” Nyrgoth. Like The Bone Shard Daughter, the story is written from the perspective of different characters, which also have different points of views. Lyn’s perspective is told from the third person, and Nyr’s from the first. There’s also one mind-boggling chapter that tells both of their perspectives at once, in separate columns. It was intimidating to behold these two columns when I turned to that chapter, but it actually made sense and fit into the narrative, proving an excellent depiction of the communication barrier between Lynesse and Nyr.


“I have no guarantee that there will ever be word from home. Three centuries of silence says there won’t be, and that I am a remnant of a culture whose second flowering into space, that seemed unstoppable and glorious, was actually just brief and doomed. I am more a relic worthy of study than those I was placed to observe.”


The narrative itself was less to my liking. I think I got really attached to the idea in the beginning of the blurb, where the black sheep of the princesses goes and begs the wise wizard to fulfill an ancient pact with her family and to save her people. When it turned out that the wizard was actually an anthropologist stranded on her planet for centuries, while studying her people, I couldn’t help but want to read the book I had been expecting. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the actual story of Elder Race, because I did like it, I’m just more of a fan of the fantasy genre personally. I honestly feel that I was the problem when reading Elder Race, not the novella itself.


“It’s also possible that I’m just resigned to being a very bad anthropologist. Which is a shame. I might be the last one left.”


My favorite part of the novella was watching the conundrum of the anthropologist unfold. The communication barrier, the locals’ belief in Nyr’s “magics,” which were really in fact, science that hadn’t been discovered yet, and his fraternization with “monsters” aka robots, were entertaining. I also thought the author did a realistic job of portraying the moral dilemma of Nyr, whether to die alone as to not interfere with the society he was studying, or to rescue them and possibly contaminate them with his presence and technology. I really wish I had his DCS (Dissociative Cognition System), a technology which allows him to compartmentalize all of his emotions and view them from a completely detached and outside perspective. Someone seriously get on inventing this. 


“[The DCS] was an essential mod, for someone who was going to be on their own for long periods of time without any social contact. My emotions are still out there, and I can get fascinating readouts about just what that locked-away part of me is actually feeling, good, bad indifferent, bad, worse, but it doesn’t touch me until I choose to open the door again.”


Another thing Elder Race really has going for it is the creepy “demon” Lynesse and Elder Nyr encounter. It infects everything it encounters universally, creating terrifying amalgamations of zombie creatures that sound like they’re straight from the video game The Forest or an equally chilling science fiction horror movie. The way the two deal with this foe is very satisfying, in-character, and fitting for the novella itself.


On the whole, I could have done with a bit more character development and fleshing out in Elder Race. I found Lynesse to be less well developed than Nyr. Outside of her quest to save her people from “the demon,” readers don’t really know a whole lot about her. We know that she’s ridiculed by her family for clinging to stories of heroes, but that’s about it. And Nyr himself isn’t much more complex, as readers aren’t really shown anything of his life before he arrived to Lynesse’s planet to study the civilization there, or when he actually first arrived there. I would have loved to see a young, ambitious, and idealist anthropologist to counter the current despondent Nyr, who has mainly given up hope of regaining contact with his home planet and people after centuries of isolation and technologically-induced sleep.


“There were no songs sung for a Fourth Daughter, nor did histories often record them. Certainly there were none for a Fourth Daughter with a past as chequered as Lyn’s. She had met the formal adulthood of her fourth Storm-season with none of the accomplishments of a princess. She did not play music, nor could she manage the accounts of a fiefdom. Her one venture into diplomacy had been disastrous. Her sisters had quietly put aside stories, brawling and running away from their lessons. Suddenly, they had all three become responsible human beings while Lynesse was still clinging to childhood.”


Sure, there are hints Nyr’s past with Lynesse’s ancestors, but we are just told about them, and never flashback to experience his emotions first hand. As a result of this, though I could sympathize with both of the characters, with Lynesse for feeling like an unwanted outcast of the royal family, and Nyr for his unresolved desperation, I wasn’t really attached to either of them or to their quest.  I would definitely say that Elder Race is more a plot driven story versus a character driven one, which is probably another reason why I just couldn’t love the novella. 


Despite my inability to form attachments to the characters and their goals and the fact that I was sort of falsely expecting a different story altogether, I enjoyed Elder Race. It was a fun novella, written with a sense of humor, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes plot-driven science fiction, especially one where not everything is as it seems. 



Book Review : Elder Race - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 9, 2021 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction

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