In this brilliant work by Tchaikovsky (Spoils of War), what begins as a humorous send-up of fantasy quests turns toward something more philosophical but no less wonderful. After a band of human adventurers vanquishes a nest of giant spiders, the mother spider sends young Nth with them to provide "the spider's path," the route they must take to reach and defeat Darvezian, the Dark Lord. The group's mage transforms Nth into Enth, who's human-shaped except for his multi-eyed and fanged head. Lief, the rogue of the group, is a particular source of comedy, but the author also inserts some sly metatextual humor, as when the group bind Enth's actions with commands that the genre-savvy reader will recognize as Asimov's Three Laws for robots. As the story continues, Enth becomes the perfect foil for reflecting upon human ideas of good and evil, monstrous and virtuous. Tchaikovsky's final revelation comes as a surprise that challenges characters and readers alike. This fun and thought-provoking work will haunt readers long after they finish it. (Aug.)
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