Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds’ REVENGER series started off well enough with Revenger, which was entertaining, though, in my opinion, not deserving of its Locus Award for Best Young Adult novel. The sequel, Shadow Captain, a Locus Award finalist (but not winner) was a significant step down for the series. I was hoping for at least a return to form in the third and final novel, Bone Silence (2020), but was disappointed.
Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness are full-fledged space pirates now, having taken on, at least in the public’s eye, the persona of the sadistic pirate queen, Bosa. They are wanted, not only for Bosa’s crimes, but also for (accidentally) devaluing the currency of their entire civilization … a civilization that may be about to fall into oblivion, as all of its predecessors did, if the Ness sisters don’t solve the mystery of the quoins, the planets, and the thirteen occupations.
But before they can start finding answers to their questions, Adrana and Fura have practical matters to attend to. They need medications for Fura, who is still infected with the “glowy” and, therefore, on her way to madness. They need a new skull. And they’re being hunted by an over-the-top evil villain who can use skulls to find and track them.
Most of the plot of Bone Silence is made up of the same sorts of events and scenes we’ve seen before — fixing up the ships, new crew members getting to know each other (the sisters acquire a second ship in this novel), working with a new and/or unreliable skull, dealing with illnesses and injuries (including even more amputations and popped out eyeballs!), hiding from enemies in space and in port, space battles, etc. Even a major plot twist is one we’ve seen before.
During the first half of the novel, especially, there’s a lot of bickering, distrust, and generally negative emotions. Everyone is so prickly, and it’s unpleasant to be around them. This gets better as the story changes focus from interpersonal relations on the ships to a more action-based plot later on.
The characterization of the Ness sisters has been a problem all along in this series. Adrana and Fura, who are different ages and had different personalities at the beginning of the first book, have never been consistently portrayed, but in Bone Silence they are indistinguishable from each other in personality, speech, and mannerisms. It would have been impossible to tell who was talking if dialog tags hadn’t been included. Fortunately, their temperament (I’m purposely using the singular rather than the plural here) becomes more pleasant as Bone Silence goes on. At the end they are suddenly quite the virtuous social justice warriors, but it’s really hard to believe in their nobility after they’ve been such self-absorbed bitches for most of the trilogy. There was one new character whose redemption story I really liked, though.
I read Bone Silence because I wanted to know the answers to the mysteries that I knew the Ness sisters would solve in this finale. Although the world-building is pretty thin (each world feels like it’s inhabited by only a dozen or so people), the strength of the REVENGER series is the intriguing setting and history of the thirteen occupations. I was eager to find out more about them, but the answers, which came very late, were totally unsatisfying. Just like the sudden humanitarianism of the Ness sisters, they felt like an afterthought, as if Reynolds was grasping for any random theme with which to wind the story down. That was a huge disappointment.
This appears to be the end of the Ness sisters’ story, and that’s fine with me. I’m glad that Alastair Reynolds is now free to spend time on what he does best — science fiction for adults.
The audiobook version of the REVENGER series is being produced by Hachette Audio. Clare Corbett does a nice job with the narration, but I really can’t recommend this trilogy.
thanks for that review good to know i wasnt wrong on reading the first book. quite suprised at how bad it was for an alistair reynolds novel.
I don’t entirely concur. I think creating a steam punk sailing ship environment was especially cool. I agree the pop-up villain in book 3 was over the top and sister’s too often seem to be their own worst enemies.
Lot of gore and mutilation though.
I am curious, though. What makes these books YA? Is it the lack of sex scenes? The lack of profanity? I am curious. House of Suns wasn’t called a YA that I know of.
I still think it’s worth reading.
I love that we have different opinions on this. I agree, Snazster, that the setting was really cool.
What makes it YA is that it’s marketed to young adults, so the publisher makes that decision, but the reason they would market this to young adults is because the protagonists are young adults. I often enjoy YA novels.