Revenger is the latest novel by Alastair Reynolds, a name that anyone familiar with modern sci-fi will immediately recognise. The bestselling author of the Revelation Space series along with other novels too numerous to mention, calling him one of the hottest talents in sci-fi today would not be an understatement. So, it was with some excitement that I settled down to read his latest offering.
The first thing to note is that this novel is actually aimed at a Young Adult audience: something I didn’t realise until I’d got partway through and checked its Amazon page to confirm my suspicions. I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few readers who were expecting one of his more-adult novels would have been similarly fooled. The writing style he’s chosen definitely supports that: a simpler style than, say, Revelation Space, with fewer of the hard-science concepts that I’ve come to expect from his books.
If I had to sum this novel up, then saying “pirates in space” would be dead on the mark. For that is essentially what the novel is all about. Seeking adventure, not to mention money to bail out their debt-ridden father, Adrana and Arafura Ness sign onto the crew of Captain Rackamore as his new Bone Readers (a fascinating concept that I won’t spoil for you). It isn’t long before they run into trouble at the hands of the feared, semi-mythical pirate Bosa Sennen, and Adrana is abducted. As the title of the novel should make obvious, Arafura sets out to gain revenge on Bosa and to recover her sister.
The setting itself is a good one: in the distant future old Earth (and possibly other worlds) have been shattered by a forgotten catastrophe. Small worlds have been created from the rubble, given gravity by “swallowers” (black holes) at their hearts, and occupied. Then catastrophe has come, over and over again. Revenger is set during the Thirteenth Occupation, which has lasted a few thousand years. Humanity has spread out again, their banks and financial institutions run by aliens, while crews of brave or foolhardy adventurers explore “bauble worlds,” seeking the ancient treasures and forgotten technologies that they contain. It’s a fascinating concept that I had no trouble with.
It’s a shame then that the story feels so rushed. The last hundred pages crams a lot in, and I can’t help feeling that Reynolds was either writing to a strict deadline or page-count. His books tend to be larger, and the story in this one suffers a little because of that constriction. The main character and narrator, Arafura Ness, isn’t particularly likeable, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and makes several choices that feel more than a little forced: an attempt to ram home that she’s changing. The death of one crew member, for little more than being suspicious and snide, and the incident with her hand are examples of this.
There was heavy foreshadowing regarding Bosa Sennen’s nature and motivations, and at the end there are a few revelations about that. The former had already essentially been spelled out, so didn’t come as a surprise. As for the latter: Bosa Sennen is a cruel, sadistic person throughout, and the notion that there are altruistic motives at the heart of her actions doesn’t ring true, particularly as no real effort is made to explain why she would even give a damn about the thing (massive spoiler, can’t say) that it is claimed that she does.
Although it does feel rushed and the plot is a bit too simplistic for my taste, there’s serious potential here. It feels like the first book of a series, and although I wasn’t immensely impressed by this novel I would certainly pick up any future releases within this setting. If you’re a younger reader or new to Alastair Reynolds, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re older or familiar with his usual work, then this isn’t going to set your imagination on fire, but is still a decent enough read.