This futuristic romp was badly marketed to me, a mature adult with a taste for hard-science speculative fiction. I found it listed as straight sci-fi but Revenger slots neatly into the YA ‘coming of age’ genre alongside Hunger Games, Divergent, et al. It pushes back no boundaries and instead covers all the common ground so familiar from Star Wars and other epics. Sailing-ship privateers seek galactic treasure and over-indulged adolescents rebel against parental authority to join a scavenger crew. Gruff coves become loyal shipmates, the teenage protagonist is aided by a friendly robot or two, hi-tech prosthetic limbs replace the captain’s hook. There’s a significant nod to the Guild Navigators of Dune and the psy-Talents of Anne McCaffrey’s Tower sequence in the unusual abilities which set the young heroine apart. And if you read between my lines, you may think I’m saying that Revenger feels extremely derivative. You may be right.
Alastair Reynolds’ earlier galaxy-spanning space operas used to inspire awestruck admiration at their audacious combination of extrapolation, invention, powerful characterisation, semi-bewildering (but entirely believable) hard science and sheer brutal brilliance. You’ll find all those things and more in his Revelation Space series, among Chasm City and the diamond dogs – eerie alien presences, religious techno cults, and the appalling yet seductive promise of the melding plague.
But if you’ve come to Revenger seeking more of the same then… it’s a bit of a let-down. The plot moves along like a video game with crews breaking open sealed space-vaults to raid ancient loot. The dialogue stoops to ‘ahoy me hearties!’ cringe-inducing cliche. It’s a lot like Lara Croft In Space featuring action/adventure rather than explicit violence, sexless encounters and only peripheral glimpses of alien races and earlier civilisations. With a nod to recent events, the banking system is significantly suspect…
Despite being disappointed by this novel’s limited scope and the predictable path of the plot, I was still entertained by Reynolds’ writing, his ability to spin a ripping yarn even from threads as well-worn as these. But Revenger is comfortably safe; emotionally and intellectually unchallenging. If I were a spiky young adult all over again, then I’d hope to read something more original, something with some real spark. Let’s hope that his next foray into interstellar space will take more risks.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Revenger by Alastair Reynolds is available as an ebook or paperback