Book Review: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Children of Ruin

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Series: Children of Time #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, Earth’s terraforming program sent ships out to build new homes for humanity among the stars and made an unexpected discovery: a planet with life. But the scientists were unaware that the alien ecosystem was more developed than the primitive life forms originally discovered. Now, thousands of years later, the Portiids and their humans have sent an exploration vessel following fragmentary radio signals. They discover a system in crisis, warring factions trying to recover from an apocalyptic catastrophe arising from what the early terraformers awoke all those years before. -Goodreads

The Review:

Children of Time is still my favorite book of 2022. Children of Ruin… not so much.

Truthfully I had a hard time finishing this one. At 80% I was forcing myself through it to the point where I initially called a DNF before deciding to just speed read to the end. I mean, I’d heard it wasn’t as good as the first one, but I wasn’t expecting to be so completely disengaged.

So what changed between books one and two? My theory is character connection. CoT was a brilliantly composed character study that managed to make me care deeply about the creatures involved. It was especially impressive that he managed to evoke that given that it was also a multi-generational story. CoR showed glimmers of good character work at the beginning, but quickly set it aside in favor of extensive theorizing and info dumps. Even the return of some familiar faces didn’t help, and in some ways actually made things worse, as none of them showed any of the depth I remember from the first book.

As you may have heard, CoT focuses on a society of spiders, whereas CoR focuses on cephalopods (octopi). I wouldn’t say spiders are any less alien to human ways of thinking and functioning as a society than cephalopods, but the way Tchaikovsky chose to present both offered wildly different experiences. The spiders came across somewhat relatable, where as the cephalopods’ society and forms of communication were so alien it was hard to form a connection to them. The creatures used complex color patterns to communicate. And the use of general impressions and imagery in place of dialogue was amazing and creative and cool… but it wasn’t engaging in the slightest. My favorite part about CoR was learning more about these creatures, but they weren’t solid, distinct enough “characters” to make me feel more than a curious interest in them.

So without anyone to latch onto, I started to feel disengaged from the story. And then the plot got a bit confusing and I lost even more momentum. So by the time I made it to the end (by the skin of my teeth), I was checked out.

I know this author can dazzle me, and by no means am I finished exploring his works. CoR had a lot of great base elements to it, I just think it lost me on some of the execution choices. I’m still looking forward to Children of Memory, but with perhaps a little less enthusiasm than after CoR.

Recommendations: while the biological components were every bit as cool as the stuff found in CoT, all of the other story elements fell a bit flat. At the moment I’d say consider CoT a stand-alone and don’t bother with this sequel, but that may change after I read the third book.

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by Niki Hawkes

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