Book Review: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Orbit (US: February 28, 2016)
Length: 432 pages
Author Information: Website
Revenger was my first book by Alastair Reynolds, which makes admitting that it did not work for me all that much harder. Still, in all fairness, I had been warned by several others beforehand that this does not feel representative of much of his work (as apparently the target audience is YA). Instead of choosing something else as my introduction to the author though, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it anyway, so that’s on me.
The story follows Adrana and Fura Ness, a pair of teenaged sisters who live with their ailing father on the planet of Mazerile. A series of bad investments have bankrupted the family and now the girls have little prospects for the future, which is why when Captain Rackamore turns up in his sunjammer hoping to recruit a new Bone reader for his crew, Adrana and Fura are quick to take him up on his offer. Because the two of them are Sympathetics, they are perfect for the job which involves mentally linking themselves up with a mysterious piece of technology called a skull on the ship, enabling the crew to communicate with other travelers using the long-established inter-galactic trade routes.
So without another thought spared to their dear old dad, the girls decide to run off and join Rackamore on The Monetta’s Mourn, beginning their treasure seeking adventures among the remains of lost civilizations. The galaxy is filled with crews like theirs scavenging the far corners of space for “baubles”, a term used to describe artificially enclosed planets that can contain all manner of precious valuables and wonders. But perhaps just as common are the ships that prey on these treasure hunting crews, waiting for others to do the hard work before swooping in and snatching away their bounty. Adrana and Fura end up learning this lesson the hard way when The Monetta’s Mourn comes under such an attack, the crew becoming the next victims of the fearsome space pirate known as Bosa Sennen.
So what worked and what didn’t? On a world-building level, I could appreciate what Reynolds was trying to achieve here. Revenger is a mix of hard sci-fi with something else that is less definable—a mythological, fabled element that belongs more in a fantasy novel, perhaps. The universe is filled with alien artifacts, ancient technologies, and other unexplainable mysteries such as individuals with special gifts. And while the story takes place in deep space and humankind has achieved the ability to travel among the stars, the atmosphere of the setting is nonetheless evocative of an era more befitting of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. Think the Age of Discovery, exploration and mercantilism, crews setting off into the great unknown on treasure voyagers hoping to bring home fortune and glory. It’s a classic maritime adventure novel complete with pirates, ship wrecks and hidden booty, except that it’s all superimposed over a science fiction backdrop.
But as fascinating as this all was, the disappointment came crashing down when, after getting through nearly half the novel, I realized very few of these elements were actually explored. All those new and unfamiliar terms that were being thrown around at the beginning, ostensibly teasing the reader and making us all think that explanations were forthcoming, ultimately led to no satisfying answers.
Then there was the main character of Fura. She’s everything I find distasteful in a teen protagonist—selfish, impulsive, arrogant, and naïve. She takes new experiences for granted, treats opportunities like she is entitled to them, and doesn’t think too hard about the consequences of her actions. I realize she’s supposed to be a teenager, but this type of attitude and thinking feels even more immature than is called for somehow.
Overall, I also found myself unenthused by the story. It’s possible that my dislike of Fura had something to do with it, though in general I thought the plot suffered from poor pacing. For a novel supposedly aimed at a young adult audience, it’s surprisingly slow. Things ticked up a bit when The Monetta’s Mourn came under attack by pirates, but then returned to a monotonous pattern once the dust settled.
I tried, but I just couldn’t get into this one. Revenger was definitely not what I expected from my first foray into Alastair Reynolds, but fans might be relieved to know I’m chalking this up to an anomaly which is not indicative of his usual work. I fully intend to try him again in the future, hopefully with a book that has a story and characters that are more to my tastes.