Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Rating 6.5/10
Revenger feels like at least two novels squashed into one

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them…

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It's their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded with layers of protection - and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore's crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future - a tale of space pirates, buried treasure and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism... and of vengeance.

Pirates meet young adult sci fi in Revenger, which follows two young sisters, Adrana and Fura Ness, as they join a scavenger crew. Set far in the future on a shattered bit of Earth that suffered some now forgotten cataclysm, there is an interesting juxtaposition of advanced technology and old fashioned society. The world Adrana and Fura grow up on, and the family they grow up in, is very much that of moneyed aristocracy that harks back to the patriarchal society of the past, yet they have a robot companion that chaperones them. The bulk of the story however is set out in deep space where alien worlds hide artefacts from long dead civilizations.
 
Adrana and Fura turn out to be particularly suited to bone reading - sending and receiving messages through the alien skulls used by spaceships to communicate with one another - and join a crew to save their father from bankruptcy. However, a run in with the infamous pirate Bosa Sennen tears them apart, and younger sister Fura has to become a harder, stronger version of herself in order to survive and save her sibling.
 
I, like many people who have reviewed this novel, didn’t realise that this was YA until I’d finished and looked into it, which makes more sense given the tone and style. Oddly it isn’t marketed as YA, and the cover is very much an adult sci fi cover, so I set off reading this expecting the Reynolds from Pushing Ice and unfortunately found myself struggling. I know some people love YA, but for me I dislike the simplification and this story just doesn’t stand up to his other work.
 
Taken as a whole, the plot follows the reliable path of young person heading out into the world, something awful happens to somebody they love, they set out to take revenge and/or save the loved one, they gather a bunch of people around them on the way and they turn into a deadly fighter. Not to say that can’t be done well, I enjoyed Hunger Games, but for me it came together too neatly. There are many unusual ideas brought in - the use of the alien skulls, the plundering of ‘bauble’ worlds with opening and closing forcefields, the backstory of many shattered civilizations, the mystery surrounding quoins (alien pieces of metal used as currency), etc. but there wasn’t enough explanation to make the greatest use of these.
 
As a sci fi novel Revenger is colourful and dramatic, with an unusual central relationship between sisters rather than a boy/girl love story. I think more could have been made of Adrana’s point of view and her experiences, as once they are separated we barely hear from her again, and Fura’s robot Paladin again was an interesting character who was set up to have a really interesting backstory and possibly a very important role in future proceedings, but who was also removed from the action. Essentially it feels like things are being set up for future novels, but this is a solo novel, which gave me the confusing impression of scaffolding being there for a reason, but then there being no actual plan to build on it.
 
This is pretty much pirating in space, replete with coves and crossbows, but nowhere near the style of Firefly or Cowboy Bebop. It didn’t work for me personally, I think it would have been better focusing on the sci fi element, but the repeated use of colloquialisms such as ‘lungstuff’ for air possibly wore my goodwill a bit thin. The way Fura develops from an unworldly, pampered child into a frankly murderous, revenge-driven leader of the pack isn’t the most believable, but as the main protagonist she centres the story well enough. Unfortunately I felt the main enemy, Bosa Sennen, whose identity was revealed too early, was subsequently underused after a strong, menacing start and again her motivations are absurd if the book is to remain a stand alone.
 
Overall, Revenger feels like at least two novels squashed into one, and I’ve never been a fan of the sort of portentous philosophising it indulges in towards the end. I think it’s safe to say that this book definitely wasn’t written for me, but if you can handle the YA structure I believe that there are enough unusual ideas tossed in to keep it moving, even if more could have been done with them.

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Revenger reader reviews

from England

9-stars

Although I am in my fifties, I love this book! I assume YA means Young Adult, and it certainly has a different vibe from Reynold's other books, which I have read all of, but I thought it complemented the slightly steam punk landscape. It left me wanting to know more about the souls in the Quoins, Palladin's progress, Adrana's life before being rescued, and what Fura does next. I buy into the universe and would dearly love there to be a sequel. The fact that Fura suggests that she and Adrana would each write their own version perhaps provides an opportunity to close some loops and open others. My only complaint- I thought the idea of Fura writing her story on human skin was weird - wouldn't it be too thick? Finally, the suggestion another reviewer made that the book was somehow anti Semitic and that the Crawlies were based on Jewish money lenders is utterly preposterous. I hope it does not dissuade the author from continuing with the story.

7.8/10 from 2 reviews

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