Book Review: Spidertouch by Alex Thomson


Order Spidertouch HERE

AUTHOR INFO: Alex Thomson is the author of Death of a Clone, published in 2018. He lives in Letchworth Garden City - home of the UK's first roundabout - and his day job is a French and Spanish teacher in Luton

Release Date: December 14, 2021 Publisher: Angry Robot Pages: 288 Cover design: Kieryn Tyler

The voiceless Keda rule Val Kedić. They keep humans obedient by sending their children to work in local mines. Communicatiopn with alien oppressors requires years of dedicated study. Keda use complicated touch-based language (known as Spidertouch or Fingerspeak). Both sides need and appreciate good translators and linguists who almost pass for local celebrities.

One of them, Razvan, keeps a low profile and works diligently. He has no goals except for keeping his son held hostage in the Keda’s mines safe. Things change when the city goes under siege. He makes a mad decision to join the rebellion. Mayhem ensues.

I applaud Thomson’s creativity and ingenuity in creating alien race and nuanced touch-based language. Fingerspeak is functional and logical but lacks emotions only speech can convey. Here’s an example (just remember, it is a translation of hand gestures into words):

Justice / Lead / (Future) / Day / Instruction / which means The Justices will be in charge. They will give their commands tomorrow.

I found learning about such a unique language exciting, but I always enjoyed linguistics. The author’s meticulous approach to world-building will delight readers who enjoy exploring new worlds.

But there is also the other side of the coin. Strong focus on linguistics and worldbuilding and world history bogs down the narrative in exposition. Nothing exciting happens in the first 30% of the story and even though all of this is interesting, it initially remains unclear why should you care. Razvan narrates things in the first-person present tense that should give the feel of immediacy. Here, though, his explanations and digressions devoid the story of suspense (subjective).

I liked Razvan as the protagonist. It’s rare in fantasy to have mild-mannered linguists or translators as protagonists. Razvan loves his son, has fond memories of his late wife, and has lots of suppressed anger toward Val Kedić’s oppressors. His transformation takes time and feels real. It was quite shocking observing this gentle individual cut Keda’s hands to make xer (Keda are addressed by pronouns xe /xer) fingermute. Such cruelty and coldness in the face of danger and revolution! Shocking but, in this situation, believable.

Interesting themes, difficult politics, and gripping action sequences are impressive, but the excessive focus on worldbuilding details will tire some readers. Should you read it? It depends. If you love languages, genuinely alien races, and details, you’ll probably love it. If you prefer action and character-driven stories, you may find more fun elsewhere.

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