BOOK REVIEW: Shadow Captain, by Alastair Reynolds

-This review conatins spoilers for Revenger. Proceed with caution.-


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Publisher: Gollancz

Series: Revenger (#2)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 422

Release Date: 10/01/2019

Verdict: 4.5/5

 

In the rubble of our solar system, it’s every man and woman for themselves.

Sunjammers ply their dubious trade between thousands of tiny worlds, their solar sails carrying through the ruins of previous civilisations. Some make a living by picking through those ruins in search of treasure and wealth. Others become pirates, taking what others have earned by force.

Adrana and Arafura Ness have killed feared pirate Bosa Sennen, and ‘inherited’ her ship. Together with the remains of two crews, they now have a choice to make. Go legal, or live up to their ship’s history . . .

 

Alastair Reynolds is a rare author, in that I generally prefer his shorter works to his full-length novels. (If you haven’t checked out Slow Bullets, do so immediately.) That being said, Revenger, the book from which this latest series takes its name, is a personal favourite of mine. A delicate balance of Space Opera and Hard SF that few writers can work with such skill. I was under the impression it was a standalone, but now it looks as though there will be a full trilogy exploring this unique setting and its characters.

The middle book of a trilogy can often be tricky. Not only do you have to carry on from what has gone before, but you also need to set up the stakes for the final volume. This can leave the middle book feeling like padding. While there is a slight element of that here, as the book has no real resolution, Shadow Captain more than carries its own weight.

The opening act is a slow burn. The Ness Sisters worrying about the future, while being pursued through space by unknown ships. But once the Revenger docks at the small world of Wheel Strizzardy, we go from pirate adventure to gangster thriller, with enemies and allies shifting all around. The alien Crawlies make a reappearance here too, and are as enigmatic as ever. Revenger ended on the suggestion that the Crawlies might be up to something more sinister than just intergalactic banking. While that idea is explored a little, there are no real answers today. But Book 3 is set up to give them, if you can bear the wait.

Whereas Revenger was Arafura’s book, Shadow Captain is told from Adrana’s perspective. More measured, calmer than her obsessive and often hostile sister, Adrana nevertheless has the same drive that spurs on so much of this series’ action. The Ness sisters are a force to be reckoned with,a nd it hardy makes them popular. One thing I appreciated about the Revenger crew is that they never fall back on the ‘we are a family’ trope. They are colleagues, even friends, and that’s enough to sell them as a team.

As this is a non-spoiler review, I’ll just note that are plenty of twists and reveals, bot in terms of overarching plot and on a character level. There are no fundamental changes to the state of the universe, but there is advancement. And from the looks of it, book 3 will see everything come crashing down on the Ness’ heads. We do however get a glimpse of how the solar system went from eight planets to a mess of asteroids and artificial worlds. Indeed, history is a key part of this story. Both what is told, and what is not.

 

All in all, Shadow Captain is a strong middle entry in an intriguing series. You’ll need to read Revenger first, but you should definitely give this series a look.

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