Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

Space pi­rates ahoy! Alas­tair Reynolds hoists the Jolly Roger for a YA ca­per.

Not his best book, but his most en­joy­able

re­leased 15 septem­ber 432 pages | Hard­back/ebook/au­dio­book Au­thor alas­tair reynolds Pub­lisher Gol­lancz

Now this is fun. Hav­ing lately fin­ished a fam­ily saga that traces hu­mankind’s first ex­pan­sion be­yond the so­lar sys­tem with his Po­sei­don’s Chil­dren tril­ogy and, in the com­pany of Stephen Bax­ter, con­jured up the spirit of Arthur C Clarke for The Me­dusa Chron­i­cles – both projects that re­quired a cer­tain rigour – it seems Alas­tair Reynolds is in the mood to cut loose. To put that an­other way: Revenger is about pi­rates in space.

If this brings forth im­ages of Fire­fly or SF from the Golden Age, then that’s en­tirely ap­po­site, be­cause Reynolds’s new novel is packed full of ad­ven­ture, good and not-so-good peo­ple work­ing to­gether to deal with bad sit­u­a­tions, and the kind of space bat­tles where ships have to be boarded and taken in hand-to­hand combat.

It’s a tale nar­rated by Ara­fura Ness, a teenager brought up on a back­wa­ter planet. Raised by a con­ser­va­tive fa­ther who wor­ries about main­tain­ing a po­si­tion in so­ci­ety he can’t re­ally af­ford fol­low­ing fi­nan­cial set­backs, her life is stul­ti­fy­ing. But then both Ara­fura and her re­bel­lious el­der sis­ter, Adrana, dis­cover they have a tal­ent for “bone read­ing”, op­er­at­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem based on mys­te­ri­ous alien tech­nol­ogy.

Be­fore you can say, “That’s a bit Robert Louis Steven­son”, the duo have run away to join a ship skip­pered by Cap­tain Rack­amore, a man who makes his liv­ing by fly­ing to “baubles” – booby­trapped worldlets where, for those who know how to get in and out with­out get­ting killed or trapped in the process, there are valu­able and an­cient alien arte­facts to be scav­enged. And there are plenty of baubles to be found, be­cause the uni­verse Reynolds imag­ines here is a place where civil­i­sa­tions have risen and fallen for so long that what’s left is a kind of cosmic junk­yard. As with Reynolds’s steam­punk novel Ter­mi­nal World, there’s a sense of his­tory weigh­ing down on Revenger’s char­ac­ters. But it’s not just ex­is­ten­tial dread that grips Ara­fura. On her first mis­sion out, things go badly awry when Rack­amore and his crew en­counter a near-myth­i­cal vil­lain­ess. Suf­fice to say we’re not just talk­ing pi­rates in space, but el­dritch pi­rates in space. And, as the ti­tle sug­gests, a girl out for vengeance.

If this is all sound­ing a bit hokey, it’s prob­a­bly worth bear­ing in mind that Revenger is be­ing sold on Ama­zon as a Young Adult novel. It’s ac­cord­ingly a much more straight­for­ward book than, say, Rev­e­la­tion Space or its se­quels. But that’s not to say Reynolds in any way writes down to his au­di­ence. In­stead, he makes a virtue of need­ing to keep his nar­ra­tive straight­for­ward and his sto­ry­telling crisp by us­ing the space this cre­ates to fo­cus in on char­ac­ter.

In par­tic­u­lar, Ara­fura emerges from these pages as vibrant and wholly be­liev­able. This is no mean trick, be­cause Reynolds al­ters her voice over the course of the book, so that she begins by speak­ing in a rather prim fash­ion but, by way of some sly jokes about how we all dis­guise our­selves to fit in, ends the book talk­ing like a proper buc­ca­neer. That Ara­fura’s emo­tional jour­ney is just as con­vinc­ing as we fol­low her com­ing of age in ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances says much about the qual­ity of Reynolds’ prose.

If you were go­ing to be crit­i­cal, you’d say that Reynolds might have been a lit­tle too in­flu­enced by Seren­ity when it comes to some of the book’s more gothic flour­ishes, but mostly you’ll likely be too busy read­ing just one more chap­ter to no­tice. More se­ri­ously, this isn’t by any means Reynolds’s best book – if “best” means ex­plor­ing big philo­soph­i­cal ideas and big science. How­ever, it’s by far the most en­joy­able book Reynolds has ever writ­ten. We await the se­quels sign­posted at the end im­pa­tiently. Jonathan Wright

Alas­tair Reynolds’s next book will be an as-yet-un­ti­tled se­quel to The Pre­fect, set in his Rev­e­la­tion Space uni­verse.

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