Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds
Shadow Captain (2019) is the second novel in Alastair Reynolds’ REVENGER series for young adults. You’ll need to read Revenger first, and this review will have some spoilers for that first book.
It’s been three months since Revenger ended, and Adrana and Fura Ness are back together after Adrana was kidnapped by the evil pirate Bosa Sennen and rescued by Fura. Now the Ness sisters have Bosa’s infamous ship and Fura, markedly changed since the beginning of Revenger, has declared herself captain. She wants to find the place where Bosa kept her wealth but, to do so, first she’ll have to land to get refueled and to find a man who she suspects may know how to lead them to Bosa’s cache. This will be dangerous because Bosa was a wanted pirate and people will assume she’s on that ship. But Fura is insistent and nobody challenges her because they’re afraid of Fura’s wrath.
“Fura’s wrath?” you might be thinking. Yes, Fura, who was a delightful teenage girl during most of Revenger, has had a drastic, almost 180-degree, personality change in Shadow Captain. She is mean, cruel, obsessed, and unreasonable. Meanwhile, Adrana, who was such a bitch in Revenger, and who went through a conditioning process that was supposed to make her just like Bosa, the over-the-top evil villain, is suddenly the sweet one. This has no logic behind it except that Reynolds makes Adrana the narrator of Shadow Captain, so maybe he wanted his storyteller to have a more pleasing personality. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are likeable at all. There’s only Adrana, and it’s hard to forget that we didn’t like her in the last book.
I complained about the illogical plot of Revenger and was hoping to see improvement in that area but, alas, the plot of Shadow Captain, once it finally gets going, is even worse. For starters, the sisters decide not to tell anyone that they killed Bosa and are now captaining her ship. Instead, they assume nobody will believe them, so they decide to lie. This involves memorizing fake identities for the entire crew and hoping nobody figures out that they aren’t who they say they are. This was reckless and nonsensical. We were told in Revenger that most people don’t even believe in Bosa, thinking her a legend, so it didn’t make sense to suddenly say that everyone knows Bosa’s ship and will assume she’s on it and will try to shoot them down. The decision to not just tell the world who they are and what happened causes all of the subsequent problems and danger (“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”). I could not get past this. There were many bad decisions made by the sisters (mostly Fura). While it was nice for Reynolds to make his protagonists a pair of teenage girls, why do they have to do such dumb things?
I’m still intrigued by Reynolds’ world and would like to know more. Some of it, as I mentioned before, is really handwavy, but I’m hoping there’s some good reason for that. So far, there’s not, though we do learn a bit more in Shadow Captain. Really, I guess, I wish I could learn more about this world in a different story with endearing characters and a tighter plot.
Shadow Captain, a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is not worthy of the prize. There are too many problems with the plot and characterization.
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.