Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Published: Out Now
RRP: £18.99 Hardback
The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives. And there are vast fortunes to be made if you know where to find them,
Captain Rackamore and his crew do. Its their business to find the tiny enigmatic worlds which have hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded with layers of protection – and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.
Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamaore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.
Ahoy me hearties – Pirates (bar innumerable dodgy sequels of certain films) are one of those things I have a soft spot for. I also love space so when you have a story with pirates IN space its safe to say I am going to have a nosey and I can happily confirm this is a tale worthy of sitting around ye olde inn fire to read.
The young Ness sisters are in a tight spot when we meet them their widowed father is in financial difficulties. The eldest Adrana has hit upon an idea being young they may be suitable to be ‘reading the bones’ a fantastic method of intra-planetary communication where messages are channelled through an alien’s dead skull. Fortunately both are rated highly and are swiftly recruited by Captain Rackamore a semi-respectable space captain who takes part in the profitable business of finding in space a ‘bauble’ effectively a dug out asteroid /space station of the ancient past of the earth for profitable logn lost technology such as an eyeglass that can see through anything. Apart from their father understandably angry at losing his daughters all seems to be going well. Unfortunately the ship and her crew are raided by the mysterious Bosa Sennen in a brutal attack separating the sisters and leaving Fura adrift on a ship in empty space.
You may not be surprised considering the title that Fura’s quest for her sister also has a huge element of seeking revenge for the attack on her crew and captain. Reynolds is asking how far is a person willing to go for someone they love and will that change you? Fura is the quiet book-loving younger sister and Adrana is the thrill-seeker who got them on board. But Fura uses that intelligence and ability to analyse events to make herself extremely focused – she strategises, can manipulate people and is willing to push her own body to the limits and defy her family just to get her sister back. I found her a fascinating character and at times unlikeable but you do see her own self-horror at how she now makes decisions she knows a few weeks ago she would not even contemplate. Her personal reactions is one the strongest parts of the book pushing out to find out how the story ends.
Characters in SF have occasionally been felt to be secondary to the ideas but there is a great supporting cast who keep crossing the sister’s lives. Two stand-outs in particular are Prozor a veteran of the ships who both is responsible for training the Nesses in space life but she develops a fascinating bond with Fura that the attack by the pirates dramatically impacts. And lurking in the shadows but both when referenced and when she arrives on the page Bossa Sennen is a terrifying woman - merciless, clever and one of those villains where you are not sure what she will do next. This diverse cast work really well and so nice to see female characters take centre stage in what could be considered a male genre.
The other major plus is the universe this story sits in. Like Firefly this is just one solar system but one at the end of the sun’s life. Every planet and asteroid mined and major planets destroyed. It’s a fascinating setting with the baubles full of treasure, thousands of small and unique settlements and the beautiful idea of ships powered by solar sails. Using the idea of 18th century sailing Reynolds has made a SF version that gives this story an immense amount of depth. This both supports key parts of the story as it develops but you get a huge sense that beyond this story there is a whole universe waiting to be unpicked but this works as a standalone so no cliff-hanger to worry about.
I only had two niggles. The first quarter of the book spends a lot of time creating the world and getting the sisters into space. While it pays off as the remainder of the book really does move fast after that it can appear like it treads water. I would recommend stick with it as when the pirates arrive things HAPPEN! The only other issue is Revenger is supposedly YA and I’m not sure – it’s a VERY violent tale and I’m not totally sure would completely work for a teenager (caveat it’s been a while since I was one!). But at the same time it is responsible enough to show the consequences of violence particularly on Fura.
So ultimately I totally recommend this treasure of a tale and recommend you coves to it or else face the plank – arghh!