One, Two, Make It Fun
By Adrian Tchaikovsky
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2016 Spiderlight is a secondary-world fantasy.
Dark Lord Darvezian’s legions of darkness threaten to overwhelm the forces of light. He is but the latest in a long line of Dark Lords. So far, each of them has been brought down thanks to instructions provided by confusingly worded prophecies of unknown provenance.
Nth expected to spend his life with the rest of the brood serving the great spider Mother in a forest few dare to enter and fewer live to exit. Then one day, a party of ambitious murder hobos comes calling.
Penthos the wizard, Dion the cleric, Lief the logistical enhancement expert, Cyrene the archer, and Harathes the holy warrior have convinced themselves that they need two things if they are to defeat the Dark Lord. They need a fang from the spider matriarch and one of her brood to serve as a guide. Mother hands over one fang and some of her knowledge, decanted into the brain of the unfortunate Nth.
Nth agrees to go with the humans, knowing that he will never return. This is bad enough. When the murder hobos ponder how to get a human-sized spider through the Light-dominated realms without incident (such as some horrified citizen murdering Nth), Penthos decides to transform the spider into a horrifying semblance of a human man. When they become aware that the man-spider is super-humanly strong, Penthos casts a geas on Nth to prevent him from tearing the party limb from limb. He’s doubly cursed.
Distrusted and abused, Nth lives up to his side of the agreement. The bickering humans, seeing Nth as a means to an end and not a person, make little effort to conceal their dislike and distrust of the being on whom their success depends. Even with Nth’s help, success seems unlikely: the human lands (filled with homicidal religious fanatics) and another spider forest lie between Nth’s home and the Dark Lord. If the party does make its way past the dangers, Darvezian waits to kill them all.
This seems to be my murder-hobo week, what with having read Stand Still, Stay Silent and this book. I’ve also read; Over the Horizon and Rat’s Maze, which provide helpful hints on managing murder hobos. I guess I should track down something thematically appropriate for the next Tears review.…
It may seem odd that a small group of people should hare off to defeat ultimate evil with only a vague prognostication to guide them. In Spiderlight’s world this is a proven and successful method of dealing with Dark Overlords. Now it is true that the ratio of actual Chosen Ones to self-deluded Chosen Ones marching to their deaths seems to be low, but people focus on the success stories.
Nth provides a very unsympathetic view of humans. Its companions cheerfully slaughter their way through impediments — except when they afflict sentient impediments with ugly transformations or mind control spells.
Contrast the spider hordes. They may eat anyone who wanders into their forest, but they don’t go around assuring each other that they are the forces of good. They’re just carnivores who are both social and intelligent..
A few portions of the story are told from the human perspective. They reveal that the humans are, if anything, even worse than the spider believes. They exhibit enough doomed desire, entitlement, jealousy, well-intentioned dishonesty, and off-handed cruelty to form the plot line of an entertaining soap opera.
Readers may wonder what exactly distinguishes Team Light from Team Dark. You will have to read the book to find out.
Spiderlight is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).