Alastair Reynolds is one of my favourite SF writers, so I was very happy to receive a copy of his new novel via NetGalley. But once I started reading it, a few things didn’t quite add up. The lead characters were a pair of teenage girls just finding their way in the universe, there was a description early on of something simple like how acceleration affected gravity…hang on, this is a YA book! I wasn’t best pleased with that realisation.
That was stupid of me.
Turns out Revenger is one of Alastair Reynolds’ very best books. We’re in the far far future. Civilisations have risen and fallen many times, alien interventions have been weathered, and humanity is spread amongst the stars. Sisters Arafura and Adrana have led a sheltered and privileged life on a backwater planet. That’s not enough for them, and, having discovered a talent for bone reading (a mysterious tech that allows for cross space communication), they sign on with Captain Rackamore and his crew to hunt baubles, tiny worldlets that are protected and booby trapped but which can contain lost and very valuable technology inside (this idea of searching through ancient relics to subsist while hoping for a life changing score put me in mind of Gateway, which is not bad company for any SF novel). As you might have guessed from the title of the book, things go badly wrong. Arafura barely survives a bloody encounter outside one bauble, and finds herself alone, left on mission and revenge….
This is an exciting, involving and very fast moving story. Arafura’s consuming need to right wrongs is at the forefront, driving her story forward with the propulsion of a supersonic jet. There are many shades of grey throughout the book. Arafura has to make some hard decisions and do some unpleasant things to further her goal. Come the end, even the villain is perhaps not the vicious psychopath she appeared to be initially. YA or not, it’s also a very violent book, with a high body count and no flinching from blood and gore. It’s never gratuitous though, just a natural extension of the dark and chaotic universe Arafura finds herself in. Space here is hostile and uncaring, and Arafura has to make herself that way to survive.
There’s some lovely writing throughout, especially this passage when Arafura finds herself in space for the first time:
“…it was a hazy circle of shimmering, scintillating light, with the Old Sun at its focus, masked and gauzed by all the intervening worlds, so that the Old Sun’s weary light was filtered by its passage through the skyshells of sphereworlds, the glassy windows of tubeworlds, the photon- shifting fields of baubles themselves, sometimes pushing that light from red to blue, sometimes from blue to red. And I’d go on to say the cumulative effect of all those worlds floating between us and the Old Sun was to create a constant twinkling granularity, an unending dance of glints, from ruby-red to white, from white to indigo, and an almost impossibly deep purple-blue.“
If that doesn’t thrill you just a little bit, then you have no business reading science fiction. Throw in an ending that goes up and on and out in the best SF tradition, and you have an excellent book. I don’t know if Reynolds intends to return to this universe or not, but I’ll be first in the queue if he does.
Oh, and at the very end, when you realise exactly what you’ve been reading…well, a Kindle suddenly seems a lot more attractive.