Book Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Publisher: Tordotcom

Publication date: 16 November 2021

Genre: Science fiction/fantasy

Page count: 206 pages

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.

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) with responsibilities (she tells herself). 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, and his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

It’s no secret that Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of my favourite sci-fi authors. So naturally, this book was an instant click for me. Blending science fiction with fantasy, Tchaikovsky creates a lush and unusual story with lots of heart.

A friend of mine described this as being a perfect book for fans of Star Trek, and she was so right. This novella is an excellent take on the “technologically primitive culture meets an advanced culture”, but with much more sensitivity than the trope usually receives. The particular strength of this book that made this trope work was Tchaikovsky’s use of language — Nyr is often trying to find the right words to make himself understood in Lynesse’s language and while they understand each other, often things don’t translate in quite the way he expects (which certainly does nothing to help dispel the idea that he’s an ancient and powerful wizard). The book takes the language of science and turns it into the language of myth and magic, and then is used in some very clever ways.

The book is split into two perspectives. Lynesse is the unimportant fourth daughter of royalty — she is seen as being childish and holding onto stories of heroes and monsters for far too long. She’s a strong and assured character, but has wobbles in her confidence due to the expectations placed on her and the way she steps outside of the boundaries set for her — all she wants to do is help her people survive a dangerous, new threat. She’s a really wonderful foil to Nyr — a man who she believes is a wizard from an ancient civilisation. In reality, Nyr is a chronically depressed, lonely anthropologist who was left behind when his comrades went back to Earth. He is from the more “advanced” civilisation, but leans heavily on Lynesse’s knowledge and fierceness to navigate the world he finds himself in. Their interactions are wonderful and full of respect.

I couldn’t recommend this book more highly to anyone who is a fan of a first contact story (although this book isn’t strictly about first contact), and anyone who loves a fish-out-of-water story. Tchaikovsky continues to knock it out of the park when it comes to novellas, and I am always eager to see what he will write next.

Want to pick up a copy of Elder Race for yourself? You can find it at Blackwells (affiliate link)

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