Thursday, November 26, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Bone Silence (Revenger, #3) by Alastair Reynolds

Bone Silence is the third and final book in Alastair Reynolds' Revenger trilogy, a dark, steampunk-inspired, YA space opera series centered around two teenaged sisters. Adrana and Arafura Ness  have adventures together and separately that are dangerous and diverting, in a reimagined dystopian solar system where humanity exists on twenty thousand habitats formed from the materials of the Eight Original Planets.

The most compelling aspect of the books is, unsurprisingly, the Ness sisters. Somewhat surprisingly, however, they are not completely likable characters. In retrospect, this is a strength and a weakness of the books. They are often placed in complicated situations, interacting with people who often have complicated allegiances and motivations and thus they often have to make complicated decisions. In Bone Silence, the sisters are co-captains of Revenger, a technologically advanced ship which was previously owned by Bosa Sennen, the most notorious (and ruthless) pirate in the System. In fact, due to actions that occurred in Book 2's Shadow Captain (which I won't recap here because spoilers!), many people believe that either Arafura or Adrana (or both) are either in alliance with Bosa Sennen or have taken her place and are continuing her reign of terror (after all, the Ness sisters are using Bosa's ship).

Another important aspect of the Revenger books is the setting. I'm generally not a fan of steampunk or YA and these books haven't changed my mind. But I am a huge fan of Reynolds, though, so that's what made me start reading these books; the characters and plot made me continue and finish them. Reynolds is an experienced hard SF author who has previously created brilliant, captivating space opera tales like Revelation SpaceChasm City, The Prefect, Blue Remembered Earth and many more. Although initially skeptical, I did get caught up in the story and following the fortunes of Adrana and Arafura made me want to continue the series to its conclusion. The setting of the books is in a future where technology is both advanced (it takes place on space ships after all) and backwards (even though it is millions of years in the future there’s no technology they have which we currently don’t have). The primary source of locomotion of ships is the harnessing of solar radiation through the use of huge solar sails, and the language of space travel is described in such a way that it could be referring to nautical journeys of the 1800s. The units of distance are "leagues." (These are all steampunk elements that I generally regard as annoying affectations. Additionally, although there are aliens, they are referred to by infantilizing names such as "Clackers," "Crawlies" and "Hard Shells." The form of currency are "quoins" and the provenance of quoins is one of the key mysteries of the series. The backwardness of the technology is also reflected in the fact they refer to the air that is in the ships as "lungstuff" and there is almost no automation of any tasks. (Although there are robots who most humans treat unseriously as toys or amusements, there are no handheld devices, no sense of a universal cyberspace and no artificial intelligence.) Everything is done by hand, by "sailors" who have specialized skills. Humans don't create technology, they find and re-purpose alien (or "Ghostie") technology in the form of artifacts that they find in ancient, abandoned habitats called "baubles" that often have artificial gravity due to black holes (called "swallowers") at their center. Navigation is by using star maps and observations of the stars. Communication from ship to ship is done primarily by "squawk" (the equivalent of radio) and by "bone." Bones are ancient alien technology which uses "twinkly" to allow certain individuals to communicate telepathically with other individuals using bones, with relativistic effects ignored. It's somewhat amazing that as a (former) physicist, Reynolds has written a series where modern physics is almost entirely absent.

Overall, I liked the series as a whole more than I liked the last book, but I am glad I read it because I really wanted to know what happened to Arafura and Adrana in the end! Bone Silence seemed overly long, as numerous plot threads that had developed over the first two books Revenger and Shadow Captain needed resolving in the third. Generally, most of these were resolved in a way that was relatively satisfying. Additionally, many of the characters that we had come to know for at least one book and sometimes two, did not make it to the end of the third book. Hey, I said it was dark! 

While this is a YA book and there is absolutely no sexual situations in the book, there is lots if violence and cruelty and death. It is a dark, dystopian solar system the Ness sisters are in, and they have to adapt and reflect their surroundings in order to navigate through it. Bosa Sennen was the main villain in Book 1 and Book 2 but in Book 3, a new villain is introduced and the narrative tension and suspense created by the struggle for dominance between the new villain and the Ness sisters, and sometimes between the Ness sisters themselves, animates the last book just enough to sustain interest to the very end. If you haven’t read any Reynolds before I would recommend starting with his hard science fiction works like Revelation Space, Chasm City, The Prefect or the Poseidon's Children trilogy.


Title: Bone Silence (Revenger, #3)
Alastair Reynolds.
Length: 432 pages.
Date Published: February 4, 2020.
Date Read: November 1, 2020.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).


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