“If the Ness sisters had a brain cell between them, they’d be back in Mazarile, taking needlecraft lessons from a robot.”
Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness have run away from home, joining the crew of a spaceship captained by a man named Rackamore. Their job on the ship is to use a skull to listen in on chatter that gives them clues about things going on in the universe, such as the location of other ships, gossip, and information about “baubles” that are about to open. They relay these messages to the captain who takes the ship to a bauble so that others on the crew can enter it and collect ancient treasures before it closes again. Everyone on the ship apparently has some genetic affinity for their job.
What the sisters don’t know, before it’s too late, is that Captain Rackamore is being pursued by a pirate named Bosa who is the most feared person in space. She’s legendary and has been alive for over a hundred years. Most people think she isn’t real, but Rackamore knows better. Eventually Bosa catches up to their ship and that’s when tragedy strikes.
Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger (2016) gets off to a promising start, but it’s really difficult to buy into Reynolds’ universe. It should be fascinating, with its alien species and collection of millions of worlds arranged in concentric circles. But the skull and baubles seem far-fetched and handwavy (kinda dumb, in fact) and it’s not clear why some people can tune into skulls or baubles while others can’t. Perhaps the characters will discover this in subsequent books in the REVENGER series. The history of the universe is a mystery, one I’d like to learn more about.
The story is exciting and it’s fun to watch the sisters get settled into the new routines of shipboard life. Adrana, the older sister who’s 18, is more than a bit acerbic and self-focused but, fortunately, we get the story from Fura’s perspective and she’s quite likeable for the first half of the novel (but, later, not at all). Other characters are even less appealing, and not well developed, with the exception of Captain Rackamore, who’s kind and mysterious, though not completely competent.
After Bosa the pirate shows up, Revenger suddenly turns very dark. Fura and Adrana are changed by events and I had a tough time believing in Fura’s transformation as well as other characters’ willingness to follow such an inexperienced spacefarer. Among other things, I couldn’t understand why she’d choose to lie when the truth would probably serve better. And her plan to try to defeat the pirate was ridiculous. I felt a little cheated by the lack of a tighter and more clever plot, and I was furious when, like a James Bond movie, the good guys let the evil villain give a monologue instead of killing her.
Revenger is an entertaining novel, but not a very good one. I’m astonished that it won the 2017 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel. It is not worthy. While I loved the setting, neither the characterization nor, especially, the illogical plot, met my standards. I will, however, read the sequel, Shadow Captain, because it’s a finalist for the 2019 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel. I’m hoping for improvement.
The audiobook version of the REVENGER series is being produced by Hachette Audio. Clare Corbett does a fine job with the narration. I didn’t love all of her character voices, but I thought she did a great job with the prosody.