Fiction Reviews


Revenger

(2016) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 425pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09055-2

 

There are many ways to start a review, but Iíll start with two words: 'Space Pirates'.

Imagine a cross between Treasure Island and Star Trek (Besides Treasure Planet, that is). Starships powered by sail, a plethora of lost technologies fought over by merchant empires, privateers and rogues. Two daughters of a wealthy family fallen on hard times. A daring sunjammer captain, and a perilous journey in pursuit of fortune and lost history.

This is a bold and fresh work of SF, and Reynolds has crafted an intricate universe through carefully dropped crumbs of information; no exposition dumps here! We have robots, aliens, space stations and all, but every description is carefully pruned and twisted for maximum effect. What starts as a fascinating adventure involving scavenging ancient worlds rapidly becomes an epic of revenge, family and ruthless plotting. Arafura, the narrator and protagonist, is a refreshingly grounded character, with completely understandable drives and foibles. She does not have any special powers or legacy of powerful family members. Rather, it is her ferocity and willpower that define her, and I am very impressed by the direction her arc takes.

And then there are the pirates. Ruthless, terrifying and abhuman; no Disney-style pulling of metaphorical teeth here, these people are without a doubt terrifying and ironically enough, rather alien. Their absolute lack of decency and propensity for violence make them threatening and intimidating antagonists, and take the story in a much darker route than the early chapters would have you believe. You get a real sense of attachment to not only the characters, but also the vast, dirty, slightly weird and wonderful world they inhabit.

There are flaws here, though few enough that I would not consider them unforgivable. Some of the dialogue, particularly in early chapters, is stiff and rather wooden. Some lines that were obviously meant to inspire awe or melancholy are robbed of their punch by poor choice of words, or overlong prose. But enough hit their mark that the pulpy action and breakneck pacing completely engross the reader, to the extent that Iím actively looking for more material in the genre that matches Revengerís tone, so much has it entertained me. Goals and motivation are also lacking for some of the secondary characters, who are given a few traits and little payoff, with two fantastic exceptions. I shall say no more, and only note my hopes that any further books in this series shall take more time to flesh out characters. The world-building is clinical and sparse in the most excellent way, and really helped pull the story through quieter moments.

In conclusion, Revenger is an absolute blast: adventure, excitement and tragedy in a well-plotted, if slightly rough narrative. Thoroughly recommended for those who enjoy Reeve and Wyattís Larklight, the aforementioned Treasure Planet, Firefly and Serenity, and any pirate story that could be redone in space. It is fresh, original, has a blindingly good narrator and protagonist, plus flavour in spades. A truly unique and exciting blend of swashbuckling sci-fi.

Connor Eddles

See also Jonathan's take on Revenger and also Allen Stroud's review.


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