Redepmtion’s Blade by Adrien Tchaikovski
Wow. Finally, the thoughtful, exciting, trope-subverting collision of fantasy and speculative biology I’ve been waiting for.
So you’ve got your standard Tolkienian fantasy world with humans, elves, and demigods versus a Dark Lord and his armies of orks and goblins. Except that all happened two years ago. Now, the war is over, but the world is still broken. The woman who won the war and a group of colorful companions (including her orkish boyfriend) are out to put things to rights.
That alone would have sold me, but Tchaikovski’s worldbuilding raises what might have been a pleasant waste of time to an education. How does a dragon work? What would expect a winged humanoid to look like? How do you fence with a sword that can cut through anything? The background of the world is also much less cliche than it first appears. The elves and orks aren’t quite elves and orks, but cultures a lot deeper and more interesting. The Dark Lord and the demigods have a whole thing. There are constructed languages!
The story is funny, exciting, and never loses sight of compassion, even as it unflinchingly plumbs the depths of wartime (or even peacetime) atrocity. It needed more editing, especially toward the end, but I still have to give Redemption’s Blade 5 stars and preorder the sequel.