Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've heard this book called "young adult," and the first thing I'd like to say is that it most definitely is not. Yes, the protagonists, sisters Adrana and Arafura Ness, are eighteen and seventeen respectively. That does not matter. This book is too dark, and its first-person narrator far too ruthless, to qualify for the young-adult designation, at least as far as I'm concerned.
What this is is a far-future space opera, of pirates and creepy aliens and ancient skulls, of a solar system (possibly ours) where the planets seem to be smashed into rubble, and the human race has built tens of thousands of habitats out of that rubble. Built them over and over again, as a matter of fact, because we're on the Thirteenth Occupation (now known as the "Congregation"), and the history of the Occupations stretches millions of years into the past. The past is the driving engine of the story, as ships search "baubles" for tech and/or artifacts no one can now understand or duplicate, and one never knows if that tech will make you rich or drive you insane. This idea has obvious parallels with Andre Norton's "Forerunners," which are some of my favorite books of all time.
This is some marvelous worldbuilding (and very artfully done, with nary an infodump to be found), and I hope the author writes more books in this universe, whether or not he continues the story of the Ness sisters. But this book is the tale of Adrana and Arafura Ness, who sign on to a "sunjammer" (a ship riding the solar wind on giant sails that visits the baubles as they open, to scavenge the loot sealed inside) in an attempt to help their father, who just lost all the family's money. They are qualified to be "bone readers," linking to the giant alien skulls on the sunjammers that serve as long-range communications devices. (These are also creepy as heck, with the implications that for all there is no brain tissue left inside, they aren't...really....dead.) However, on their very first voyage they run into the pirate Bosa Sennen, who kills nearly the entire crew and takes Adrana hostage on her ship.
This starts the story, and a dark and bloody one it is. Arafura changes from a naive young girl to an obsessed and ruthless woman, and if in the end she finds her sister and kills Bosa Sennen, her triumph comes at a very high price. To hunt a monster, she basically becomes one. The last few pages of the story shows she realizes this, and if there is a sequel, I hope the consequences of what she's done are dealt with. (I also hope the second book is told from Adrana's viewpoint.) There is so much more that could be done with this universe and characters, and so many questions that deserve answers.
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