I received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out in September; RRP $32.99.
It’s hard to really talk about this book without massive spoilers that completely take away from the gripping revelations that come as the story unfolds. So I’ll do that below the cut. But firstly: I really like this cover! The flat picture doesn’t do it justice. The stark black with pinprick stars and a black silhouette of a spaceship in the middle – it’s lovely. The title font is a bit Alien, although without a narrative connection, and the silver does cool things in the light. I’m interested that the title is larger than Reynolds’ name, since on his last (solo) novel, Poseidon’s Wake, it wasn’t (nor on the novella Slow Bullets). Must be a deliberate decision but I couldn’t speak to why.
Anyway. It gets a lot darker than I was expecting, it’s fair to say – not in a bad way but in an intriguing way. Adrana and Fura are sisters from a sheltered little world and a sheltered little family who decide to run away to sea – well, to space. The crew they join is welcoming if a bit dubious, as you would be, but things generally go well… until they don’t. And then things go quite bad.
Fura is the narrator, and when the action opens she’s not yet reached her majority. It’s unclear how old that is on her world, but one of the early tensions is the question of whether Fura is capable of making decisions for herself, or if she’s just being pulled along by Adrana. Of course, as the story progresses she develops and grows and – no spoilers – shows that she can indeed be responsible. Ish. There are some really interesting relationships that develop, but they really take back seat to the development of Fura herself.
A note on language: Reynolds hasn’t gone all Andrew Macrae Trucksong and re-invented language to represent the immense span of time; neither is he insisting that this is English – it’s just some universal language. But it’s not just transliterated (as it were). The spaceship crew, like sailors of the 18th or 19th centuries, have their own patois: people are coves, there’s lots of abbreviation and slang. More generally there are some words that are different – lungstuff, for instance, for oxygen; my favourite is quoins, for money. It doesn’t always work – it doesn’t always feel completely natural – but I especially like that the different social groups are clearly differentiated by their language, which is very real.
I love the narrative but I am really, really intrigued by the universe that Reynolds has created here. It is – I am almost certain – our solar system, but it’s an unimaginable time in the future. There’s an enormous number of worlds called the Congregation, most of which are not worlds as we know them, but small and many clearly artificial. There have been many collapses and resurgences of humanity, with concomitant loss of memory and history and mysterious rubbish left behind. The ship Fura and Adrana head out on are, brutally, junk connoisseurs – what can they find in places that might have been picked over several times in the last few centuries? But there’s a trick there, since the places with good junk are protected and dangerous. And there are alien races, too. I would really, REALLY like to see more stories set in this world.
A couple spoilery thoughts below… but the long shot is, this is a great fun novel and I’m super excited to see yet what else comes out of Reynolds’ brain.
I couldn’t BELIEVE where Fura got to by the end of the story. I kind of guessed what the ink might be but sure as heck not the writing material. I’m still not sure whether I’m entirely convinced by her deterioration/development quite so quickly. She has experienced a lot of tragedy and horror very quickly, but I think there wasn’t quite enough suggestion of the possibility of her changing like that. Or maybe that’s part of the point and you never quite know how people will respond… which is exactly the point of the Bosa Sennen story (which made me have visions of Dread Pirate Roberts, of course). On which, I guessed the reality of Illyria a bit before it was revealed but not that early, which was quite satisfying.
Also, OH MY GOSH how can Reynolds just LEAVE that reveal about what quoins are?? Such a tease! SURELY it must mean he’s got Intentions for this world. There’s such scope for a future space opera epic in just that idea of souls being trapped… .