Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz (2016), Hardcover, 432 pages
At first glance, and indeed for about the first 100 pages or so, this seemed like another in the ever-growing collection of what I like to call Firefly porn. The familiar trope – racketty spaceship, crusty but lovable captain, crew of misfits – there’s a lot of it out there. The beginning is pure Firefly homage – Adrana and Arafura are sisters who run away from a cossetted life and overbearing father on a planet in the Congregation, a collection of 50 million artificial worlds huddled together against the dark of interstellar space, to join the Monetta’s Mourn, a ship engaged in the quest for baubles. Baubles are time-locked vaults left by long-departed aliens, full of advanced technology, and cracking them requires all the disparate skills of a crew like those of Monetta’s Mourn. The girls quickly find they have the talent to be Bone Readers, highly prized individuals who can tap the psychic emanations from a long-dead alien skull to scout for danger and spy on communications between other ships and learn where the best baubles are located. However, any thought this story might turn into just a long, cozy treasure-hunt are shattered, when in a orgy of violence, the Monetta’s Mourn is attacked by a vicious pirate and most of the crew slaughtered. Adrana is kidnapped by the evil Bosa Sennen and Fura is left to plot revenge and get her sister back. It makes for a great story, and Reynolds manage to extract much mileage from a familiar story with quick-paced plotting, strong and believable characters and an idiosyncratic but plausible universe. Much of the strength of the book rests on the shoulders of Arafura, who quickly develops under the pressure of events beyond her control into a formidable but endearing character. In addition, there is an excellent support cast to back her up. I really enjoyed this book, there seems certain to be a sequel, and its one I am really looking forward to.