Revenger does not play up to the strengths that Alastair Reynolds has as an author. When I first heard about this book I was excited because Reynolds was going to try something new, a first-person story with a tight focus. I realized through reading Revenger, that Reynolds has always been a big picture guy, and that is what I love about his books, an expansive and detailed universe with nuances that blow your mind. In Revenger, he is shackled by the perspective of one character, and it just didn’t work for me.
Adrana and Arafura are sisters wanting to run away from home in search of adventure and money. They leave because their father needs money for a possible heart surgery and their lives are being stifled into a direction that means they will have next to no freedom. There are hints of their father wanting them to stay little girls with the assistance of a creepy doctor too. The two of them join a spaceship that looks for lost treasure in the universe, a mash-up of pirates and treasure hunters.
The first thing I would like to mention is that this opening to the story just did not settle right with me. The beginning felt thrown together and too convenient. Within the first 20 pages, the girls are deciding to leave their home, and join a space vessel. These girls that have never done a day’s work in their life, are found to be able to have the ability to talk with magic alien skulls, immediately making them valuable to spaceship crews. I expect this type of beginning in an older fantasy book but not in a Reynolds science fiction book.
I never became invested in the story because I felt the entire story of Arafura was being started in the wrong place. There is no need to show the scenes of how they got aboard Rackamore’s ship. It would have been better to talk about these things in dialogue with other characters. I feel the real story doesn’t start until after they are in space and the main conflict scene happens. If the story started right before the main conflict scene, that creates the entire narrative, it would have been such a better book, but instead, the story starts in a very uninspiring place with a trope about girls running away from home, but have special abilities to make themselves valuable.
During the scenes of conflict, which I don’t want to talk about in great detail because I think the book is better without knowing what happens, the book was outstanding. I also saw hints of that expansive universe world building that I love from Reynolds during the space flight scenes. Because this is a universe that is exponentially old, technology has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, so this far future is nothing like what you would expect it to be. The space flying is somewhat similar to our current day space flight capabilities but with a few more advanced things thrown in.
The space treasure hunters are looking for baubles that are floating around in space. The ships use an alien skull to “hack” into the communication of other ships to find baubles before everyone else. Inside these baubles, there are a lot of old(more technological advanced) items that can be sold on the market. The big thing is that these baubles only open during a small window and there need to be people that can break into the vaults. It’s a cool idea but because we have this limited view of the story, we never get a good explanation why these baubles are even out there and why they open and close. In fact, there are a lot of things in this book, because they weren’t explained, just made me think of possible inconsistencies. There is a possibility I missed a lot of these clues, though.
I think that a lot of people’s experience with this book will revolve around their thoughts on the main character Arafura’s character growth. Either the reader will believe her character growth as believable or not. I personally did not believe her character growth at all. She changed so drastically in such a small period of time. I know that traumatic events change people quickly but her entire personality was different by the end of the story. There is a weird story element that explains why she changed so much but I never was on board with that explanation.
Revenger isn’t a bad book per say, I thought it was just an OK read, I didn’t hate it, but I found it to be a problematic read that just didn’t engage me much beyond a few crucial scenes. Reynold’s character writing was never the reason I read his books, it was always the world building, and in Revenger, Reynolds is trying to get better at character writing, but at the expense of what I enjoy most about his books.
8/25 Possible Score
2 – Plot
2 – Characters
2 – World Building
1 – Writing Style
1 – Heart and Mind Aspect