Thursday, July 02, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Revenger (Revenger, #1) by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger is the first entry  in a trilogy by Alastair Reynolds, who is most well-known for his immersive brand of hard SF space opera books like Revelation Space, Chasm City, The Prefect and Blue Remembered Earth among many others. I had been reluctant to read Revenger even though Reynolds is one of my favorite authors (I own at least a half-dozen of his books in hardcopy and generally list either Chasm City or The Prefect (later renamed Aurora Rising) as in the top 10 of my favorite SF books of all time. My reluctance was based in the fact that Revenger has been characterized by some as Young Adult fiction. I’m not opposed to YA (I’ve read all the Harry Potter books and even the Hunger Games books) but the unexpected genre switch lowered Revenger on my TBR (to-be-read) pile.

However, with all that said it is not clear to me that this book is YA. It is true that the two main characters are two teenaged sisters, Adrana and Arafura Ness, but the topics covered in the book are dark, and I would argue not for very young adults. But it’s true that there’s no sexual themes, but that’s often been the case previously in Reynolds' work. Revenger contains kidnapping, violence, torture, profanity and betrayal.

The story begins with the Ness sisters running away from home to try and make money for their single parent father (their mother died many years previously). Adrana is over age and Arafura is just under but they manage to talk their way on to a space ship leaving their home planet of Manzarile because they have the rare mental aptitude to “read the bones” (use ancient technology called “skulls” to communicate across the vastness of space). In this universe typically late teens are able to be "bone readers" although the ability generally goes away as they age into their twenties.

Another interesting aspect of the universe Revenger is set in is that humanity is basically distributed across a vast collection of several thousand planets and artificial satellites or habitats called the Confederation. These habitats have been created and occupied for thousands upon thousands of years by multiple waves of intelligences, called Occupations, some of which have been done by aliens or at least by people (or creatures?) who had more advanced technology than is available to be created nowadays. The primary source of commerce in the Confederation is space ships harvesting and selling materials from these  “baubles” (the ancient abandoned habitats). Bizarrely, the primary currency humans use is something called quoins, which are exclusively managed by an alien race (called Hardshells or Clackers). The mysterious nature of quoins is something I think will play a larger role in the future books.

Adrana and Arafura are separated pretty early in Revenger  and the main storyline follows the younger sister or Fura, as she starts calling herself. The story is mostly told in first-person and she’s portrayed sympathetically, if a bit naively. She has numerous traumatic experiences but her primary motivation is to try and reunite with her sister, who has been kidnapped by Bosa Sennen, a very notorious space pirate.

I don’t want to reveal any spoilers so I’ll stop any further discussion of the plot. Overall, I will say I was impressed (and suprised) with how compelling a read Revenger  is and since I am invested in Fura’s future I will likely read its two sequels Shadow Captain and Bone Silence.

Title: Revenger.
Alastair Reynolds.
Paperback: 411 pages.
Date Published: Septmber 20, 2016.
Date Read: June 19, 2020.

★★★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


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