It has been an interesting week in America. We have been seeing unprecedented protests against corrupt authority figures and for the rights of Black Americans, and it has made it difficult to find the desire to write about books. Thankfully, I recently read Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which feels somewhat fitting to the current developing social situation. While not a perfect fit, it is the only book I have in my back pocket that feels appropriate to talk about this week. So let’s talk how about war, oppression, and greed are the worst and how there is nothing more precious than human life.
Guns of the Dawn is a standalone flintlock fantasy anti-war book. Our story follows Emily, a minor noblewoman of Lascanne – which feels like an allegory for the British during the revolutionary war. At the start of the book, Lascanne receives news that their neighboring country of Denland (who feel like an American colonies allegory) has, “selfishly and evilly risen up and killed their wonderful perfect monarch who never did anything bad ever”. The Lascanne news then begins to report that the Denlanders, now intent on remaking other countries in their republican image, are coming for Lascanne. This begins a protracted, slow, and costly war between the nations. As a result, the King of Lascanne begins drafting a few men from every household to join the army, then all men, then women.
The story of Dawn is divided essentially into three sections: pre-war (approx 20%), war (approx 65%), and post-war (approx 15%). All three of the sections of the book are good, but they come in two very different flavors. The pre-war and post-war sections feel like they are drawing from Pride and Prejudice. They paint a very impressive victorian-esque tale of Emily navigating political and familial challenges that stretch her intellectually and emotionally. I found it a well-written character growth based narrative. However, the war portion book reminds me of my all-time favorite anti-war book: Armor, by John Steakley.
The war portion still has some character elements but feels like its focus shifts to larger anti-war and anti-authoritarian themes and points that resonated more strongly with me. The war portion of the book has an excellent exploration of a number of topics that I really appreciated in the current social climate. One, in particular, was the idea of how effective propaganda is at convincing people of an alternate reality. Tchaikovsky spends a lot of time establishing how steeped in loyalist rhetoric Emily is for the first half of the book and then shows how it can result in complete denial of reality when presented with contradictory facts. Only through repeated exposure and slow deprogramming can Emily start to realize a lot of what she has learned has been a lie and (spoilers), unsurprisingly, the authority figure in charge of her country is a selfish monster.
While I liked all three sections of this book a lot, and think that Dawn has a very unique story and experience to offer its readers, I do think it has a major flaw. I don’t really think the two styles of the book blended together well at all. In reality, it felt like I read half of one book, changed to an entirely different book, then went back and finished the second half of the first book. Independently, I think I would have given both styles of the story a higher score than I will give them combine. In the end, I felt like they detracted more from each other than they added. I also ended up liking the war section a lot more, but that might be because of the current social context. The war sections felt a little heavier and more appropriate to what is going on in America right now.
Guns of the Dawn is a unique story with a lot of competing elements. It manages a delicate balance between character and theme focus and does an excellent job with both. The combination of victorian love story and anti-war paper is not quite seamless, but it is definitely interesting and original. I definitely recommend Guns of the Dawn, both as a generally enjoyable book and as somewhat topical for current events. It is a story that talks about the power of love and standing up for what is right at the same time, both of which are things we could use right now.
Rating: Guns of the Dawn – 8.0/10