(2020) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 603pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09067-5
Unfurl the sail and chart a course into the Big Empty… Bone Silence is the final in the 'Revenger' trilogy of pirate-punk space-opera; a trilogy that is possibly Alastair Reynolds' greatest SFnal achievement since his 'Revelation Space' series.
'Pirate punk'? Well, this is sort of steam punk but instead of Victorian age technology we have swashbuckling pirates in space on crafts using Solar sails to plough deep space around the Old Sun in the far future.
This final story follows Revenger and Shadow Captain. As all three novels form a seamless, single story, readers are advised to check out the earlier books reviews on this site, as what follows includes spoilers, only those who have read the afore, first two novels, should continue with this review.
Before that, one minor point: this novel is a third longer than the first in the series and I am not sure if it is not quite as tightly written. This is something on which Alastair might wish to keep an eye. Meanwhile, back at the plot…
What we have with Bone Silence is a solid conclusion to the trilogy. Following all the quoins in what was the Solar System having randomly changed value, humanity's economic system is close to collapse. While the Ness sisters are not necessarily thought to be behind this catastrophe, their (we readers know to be inadvertent) association with a notorious pirate, Bosa Sennen, means that they now have a small fleet of ships seeking them.
Stopping off at a space station to buy a bone (alien skulls embedded with machinery that serve as sort of haphazard quantum communication devices), they agree to give an 'alien' clacker passage to escape the alien's enemies. In return, the alien will provide information as to the true nature of the quoins.
Not long after they leave the space station, they detect the small squadron of ships behind them. This fleet is headed by a vicious young man who would equally be as happy to bring the Ness sisters in dead as alive. What follows is a battle worthy of Hornblower.
One thing leads to another and the Ness sisters head off into the Big Empty away from the Old Sun in an attempt to find the answer as to what caused the periodic downfalls of human civilisation and the resumptions of the periodic Occupations…
In addition to more new satellite worlds we also get a haunting and effectively a ghost ship with tattered black sails. It is all fantastic stuff.
Sufficient questions are answered to give the trilogy's readers satisfaction and the Ness sisters find a sort of concluding equanimity (for the time being?) to round-off the three book's over-arching plot.
Having said that some questions, and a lot of detail, remain. Indeed, there are clear hints at interstellar machinations which might lead some readers to suspect that there is the possibility of forgotten humans elsewhere in the Galaxy. Additionally, the background universe scenario Reynolds has created has great potential for the author to mine further for short stories. Hopefully, with or without the Ness sisters, we will not have seen the last of such tales me hearties.
See also Mark's take on Bone Silence.
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