City of Last Chances Review: Wish you were here

The titular City of Last Chances is the city of Ilmar, a disparate and dangerous place where the local population are occupied by the Pallseen, a nation of serial invaders intent on unifying the world into conformity by insidiously replacing language and customs, and eradicating the history and culture of each land that they touch.

But the old ways and beliefs have a habit of perpetuating and there’s an ancient power to those customs that the Pallssen covet, as they do all power.

Yet the real reason the Pallseen want Ilmar is because it sits on the edge of the Reproach, a long abandoned ruinous city, filled with countless decadent and magical treasures that unfortunately are guarded by a population of cursed, lost souls and undead demons. Although many have visited the Reproach in search of their fortune, few have returned, and even fewer with their sanity.

Author Adrian Tchaikovsky is a name synonymous with the kind of world-building that SFF demands. His deliciously descriptive prose has an unmatched ability to paint every corner of the worlds in his imagination with the kind of detail that invites the reader to become lovingly lost in an unfamiliar landscape and yet able to navigate every street by knowing the texture of every brick and the sound of every footstep.

This finesse and clarity of detail in the world building is the rock on which Tchaikovsky has built the City of Last Chances, creating a landscape he can decorate with a tapestry of protagonists who weave in and out of each other’s lives. The threads of multiple extraneous plotlines intersect deliberately and invisibly to bring about a bigger picture, dimensioned in beautiful complexity.

City of Last Chances really feels like a snapshot of a city. A guided glimpse at a world on the precipice of change, where the beauty of the story is in the slow and gentle unfolding of how the unrelated combine, rather than a race to the plot line.

Indeed, while the world may be richly unique in its aspect, there’s also a joyous familiarity in the smartly exercised plot devices. There’s a Macguffin, a collection of unlikely heroes and a totalitarian state. All of which set the scene for a good solid dose of SFF.

City Of Last Chances sits very well within its fantasy lane, and although there is magic, mysticism and machinations to explore, Tchaikovsky elects instead to use these as a platform to deliver symbolic tales of rebellion and dissent, that celebrate the unexpected delights of collaboration without conformity.

City of Last Chances by Adrian Tchaikovsky is out now.

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