City of Last Chances – Review

Author – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Pages – 496

Genre – Fantasy

Publishing Information – 8th December 2022, Head of Zeus/AdAstra

The One Sentence Review

A complex and richly layered story that may not suit everyone but definitely rewards the readers’ patience.

The Blurb

There has always been a darkness to Ilmar, but never more so than now. The city chafes under the heavy hand of the Palleseen occupation, the choke-hold of its criminal underworld, the boot of its factory owners, the weight of its wretched poor and the burden of its ancient curse.
What will be the spark that lights the conflagration?
Despite the city’s refugees, wanderers, murderers, madmen, fanatics and thieves, the catalyst, as always, will be the Anchorwood – that dark grove of trees, that primeval remnant, that portal, when the moon is full, to strange and distant shores.

Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world and the gateway to a thousand worse places.

City of Long Shadows.
City of Bad Decisions.
City of Last Chances.

The Review

You might say Adrian Tchaikovsky has earned the right to write this novel.

What exactly do I mean by that?

Well, I don’t make the rules, but a new author writing something as complex, different and ambitious as City of Last Chances – a story that requires a little patience and belief to get into, might not grab your attention quickly enough. If it was an author who’d not built that reputation already, they may fall by the wayside of books-I’ll-come-back-to-someday (translation:never) or be too much of a risk for a publisher to take on.

Adrian Tchaikovsky has built a reputation as a storyteller and a trust that his books are going to be interesting and well thought out. Talking, evolved spiders was a risk in a serious space opera but he made it work. And on his return to fantasy, Tchaikovsky’s imagination and willingness to try something new is realised very well with a despicable and full of death city that also happens to be oh-so-alive.

And this is a big city that can take you longer to discover than some whole fantasy worlds, which will be a delight to those readers who like to be completely immersed in the world building. For them, this will be fantastic to explore. To others, it might be daunting having so much going on in one place city (and the woods). The depth to the story, to the city, to the writing will probably divide opinion.

It’s perhaps the sort of book you read that you’ll enjoy most when you have a day or two off work, or you know you’ve got uninterrupted reading time. Those readers who snatch a 15 minute power read on their commute, or in between a baby’s naps for example, may find it harder to stay with the narrative and concentrate, although I’d say it’s worth the perseverance for those who do. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it myself to begin with and that is something quite new for me – to get vibes that I’m not going to enjoy a book and instead go on to find a lot to enjoy. My intuition is usually right but I actually ended up appreciating the work that’s gone into this as I got further into the book. A huge amount of craft and imagination to admire from the author.

You might think I’ve not been shouting from the rooftops about how you must read City of Last Chances, but I actually think it’s extremely good, I’m just trying to recommend it to the right readers – those who will enjoy it! And on this occasion, it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but those it does appeal to will likely love it for the reasons others won’t get into it.

For me, I really liked it because I’ve never been a reader obsessed with heroic characters and having to find ones I love and can relate to; the world and bigger picture often fascinates me more, as do dark grey characters and straight up bad guys – of which there are plenty here, human and otherwise.

What I especially like are supposedly good people who do bad things, and bad people who do good things. There are a lot of very different characters here and that can at times become hard to follow; I’m not exaggerating when I say I might even recommend taking notes early on. However, I wouldn’t actually change it. I’ve been wanting a fantasy book for ages that is really intricate with loads of morally dubious characters each with very different personalities and motivations and this definitely ticks that box. You’re dropped into a dangerous city full of dangerous people, if you survive to learn them you’ll be in for a rich and vibrant experience that is deeply fulfilling – but you must stick with around 30% of slower buildup and learning a few things to get there, about the various forces and factions at play and to acclimatise yourself to everything.

When you do, you’ll realise this book excels in the deeply well thought out city of Ilmar. It’s one you wouldn’t survive in for more than a few minutes and has been invaded by a conquering army, showcasing the volatile powderkeg of a city under heel and in rebellion against the new oppressors. I don’t feel like there are many, if any, fantasy books I’ve read that capture that mood so well as Tchaikovsky does here and it’s really intriguing to see. Much like A Song of Ice and Fire, it wasn’t really the fantasy or magic I enjoyed the most, I could take it or leave it – it’s the historical inspirations and parallels with modern day troubles that are particularly interesting.

Ultimately, this is a book that requires patience and a willingness to pay attention. Whilst that might be a big ask in recent times, if you are able to for the first part of the book then you’ll be rewarded. This is a standalone so there’s a lot to cram in, but it’s one with a complete story you won’t have to wait years for the next instalment.

The City of Last Chances is a richly layered and complex tale with a lot of imagination and thought provoking plot devices. If you can stick with the perhaps unfamiliar approach, this could be your new favourite book.

Thankyou very much to Cassie Waters, Ad Astra/Head of Zeus and the author Adrian Tchaikovsky for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my review, as well as join the blog tour!


2 thoughts on “City of Last Chances – Review

  1. I did enjoy this but I almost felt that there was too much crammed into one book. I wanted to get to know the characters and backgrounds a bit more. I loved the ending though

    Liked by 1 person

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