Revenger - Alastair Reynolds

[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]

I've never read anything by this author before, so I can't compare with his other works. In general, although "Revenger" is not without faults, it was an entertaining novel.

"Revenger" takes place in a decrepit, dark solar system. In this world where spaceships run both on ion engines and thanks to sails gathering solar radiation from the "Old Sun", crews live and die for their constant scavenging of "baubles", closed gems inherited from various alien occupations, that only open from time to time... and are rumoured to contain all kinds of treasures. There's no massive colonisation of other planets here, only little artificial worlds, scattered here and there, some in the shape of tubes, others using rotation to generate their gravity. This is a world of smuggling and piracy, of young women signing up with crews to leave their smothering father, and of rakish captains and resourceful sailors—all united by their love of money (qoins) and their fear of the legendary Bosa Sennen.

There were great moments in this story—from gritty and gorey close-combat scenes to tense moments between characters, from the cold, constricted yet fascinating baubles to the ominous presence of the Nightjammer when it was looming close—and hints of a world building that goes much deeper, thanks to the various bits the author gives here and there about the various Occupations. I wish the author had had room to develop this some more, especially when it came to the baubles and why they were left here: weaponry warehouses? Traps? Something else? Part of a much more complicated system?

A lot of the characters in this novel are not particularly nice at first sight. Adrana and Fura dream of adventure, and enlist on a ship to earn money for their father who lost a lot in bad investments (on top of having heart problems), but most of their drive still comes from a selfish desire (selfish because they don't think of all the hurt they'll cause) to escape a pampered rich girl's fate. Probably they're meant to marry to bring money in, though, and, in Fura's case, there's the matter of her father, as doting as he is, considering having a creepy doctor inject her with drugs so that her body will remain that of a child for more years to come. While the crew of the Monetta seems to be decent people, other are clearly cowardish, like captains trailing other ships to let them do most of the work in a bauble before entering it themselves, or, worse, jump them to steal their loot and kill them (Bosa is in the latter category). Vidin, from the beginning, was a thug who demolished a robot instead of just "preventing it from entering the shop". And Fura herself isn't blameless, becoming harder (understandable considering the hardships she's been through) in a way that also makes her really callous at times (I'm thinking of the morning of her escape, more specifically).

However, even though this doesn't make them too likeable, it also definitely fits the mood. There's something dark and rotten in this world, highlighted by some of the loot found in baubles: cloth as black as the night, ghostly weapons and armor that seem to defy the laws of space itself, claustrophobic baubles where you can end up trap if you've got your auguries wrong (they open and close at set times, and if you're trapped, nobody can get you out). Ships communicate and spy through the use of bones, ancient remnants of aliens long gone, which nobody truly understand; only teenagers can read them, before adulthood freezes their neural elasticity and makes them unable to process the kind of data travelling on the bones. And, in general, no mercy here: a tiny mistake will kill you, and some, like Bosa, have mastered and elevated cruelty to the rank of art.

Oddly enough, I quite liked Bosa. Maybe because of her way of talking, her strange suit, the legend she posed as... I admit I was a little disappointed when her goals were revealed, not because of what they were, but because of the way they were introduced—these would have deserved, I think, more details, and a different kind of exposition. This echoed the disjointedness I could feel at times, when the rhythm of the narrative became uneven; the beginning would be a good example of this, with the girls' decision coming a little too fast to be believable (especially Fura's—Adrana was introduced as wilder, but Fura seemed to be too mild and obedient to suddenly do such a 180). Things became more interesting once the girls were onboard the ship.

There's a slight shift in the narrative style as well: the harder Fura becomes, the more her style veers from her more prim, 'ladylike' speech (even though she always keeps traces of it—as several characters are apt to point out). Although to be honest, I'm still on the fence when it comes to Fura's growth: in spite of the hardships she encountered, I found it too quick, and not entirely justified by the a certain plot element supposed to make her more paranoid/prone to anger. I don't know. It just seemed to extreme.

Still, I enjoyed the book, and am hoping there'll be a sequel, so 3.5 stars it is.