(2020) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 603pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09667-5
Bone Silence is the ‘Third book of Revenger’ trilogy, following Revenger and Shadow Captain. So if, unlike me, you’ve read the other two, you’ll have a passably good idea what’s going on. For us newbies, we’re swimming in an unfamiliar ocean, surrounded by friends we have no recollection of, reminiscing about a past we can’t remember.
But we soon pick up the pace. The book is set in the far, far future when our sun is now the ‘old sun’ and people live in orbital habitats (‘worlds’) because all the old planets have gone (I am told this was explained in the previous books to provide the raw material for the multitude of habitats). We’re in the 13th ‘Occupation’ (never quite got an explanation of that, except they seem to have happened on a cycle of 22,000 years) which gives rise to new civilisations with only hazy myths of what might have gone before. There are aliens too, and monsters that are part alien part human (unless I’ve read things wrong and the ‘monkeys’ the author keeps referring to are just that, and not some alien anti-human slur).
The plot revolves around the Ness sisters, heroines of the previous novels as they worked on a ship gathering valuable artefacts from orbiting ‘baubles’ and then fighting their way past an infamous pirate called Bosa Sennen, acquiring her ship, the Revenger, along the way.
What follows is a mission quest and, frankly, a romp through the world (in the loosest sense) Reynolds has created. One of the sisters, Adrana, is a skull reader – ancient alien skulls contain within them the power to instantaneously communicate across vast distances – and the book opens with Adrana seeking a skull to replace the one formerly used in her ship, presumably lost or damaged in the previous book. The skull comes with a price – passage for an alien ‘clacker’ to a place of safety in a ‘spindleworld’. The alien is cranky and has enemies – mixed up ‘muddleheads’ intent on killing the clacker and the Ness sisters – so a chase across space ensues, all the way to the spindleworld Trevensar Reach, where revelations await.
This is a character-driven space romp, and the Ness sisters are delightfully rough around the edges. Fura, the ruthless one, is fighting with some alien ‘glowy’ inside her, intent on turning her into something else. Adriana, the conciliatory personable one, has to contend with a skull that doesn’t work as intended, and a new crew that by rights shouldn’t entirely trust her (since she crippled their ship on a pirate raid). For the Ness sisters, the journey is partially about redemption – for right or wrong, they are perceived as pirates and outlaws – but partially about proving themselves.
The first book in the series won a YA prize and the relative youth of the protagonists fits it nicely as such, though I think Reynolds wrote it with adults in mind - nothing to scare the horses though, give or take a severed limb or two. All in all it’s pretty traditional space opera fare, albeit expertly delivered. Entertaining and fun. I just wish I’d read the other two books in the series first.
See also Jonathan's take on Bone Silence.
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