Review: Shadow Captain

Posted: January 15, 2019 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Alastair Reynolds, Science Fiction

It’s always an interesting ride, I think, when an author that typically writes for readers within a particular age range ventures outside their normal boundaries. Age ranges being groups like Children, Middle Grade, Young Adult, blah, blah, blah. In this, I’m thinking Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea (EBR Archive) or Rowling’s Casual Vacancy are decent examples of this jump in readership. Sometimes they work; other times, not so much. I’ve never tried any of Rowling’s non-Potter books, but of the three YA books that Abercrombie gave us, I thought the first and third not quite as good as what I was used to getting from him, but the second, in my estimation, was possibly the best book he’s ever written. And while Revenger wasn’t necessarily my favorite book from Mr. Reynolds, and I’d likely be more interested in getting another in the Prefect Dreyfus series, I was still super excited to get another anything from him, as he’s easily one of my favorite science fiction authors these days.

SHADOW CAPTAIN (Amazon) is the second book in the Revenger series. The third and final in the series (but likely not this universe), Bone Silence, is next on his writing slate. Revenger is nominally a young adult book, as the main protagonists are kids in their mid-to-late teens, but very little of that book felt young adultish other than how approachable the story and concepts within it were. The story of SHADOW CAPTAIN picks up with the Ness sisters, Adrana and Arafura, as they are now flying around the inner space of the Congregation in the ship of the dreaded pirate Bosa Sennen. Only problem is that they’d rather not be pirates any more, but no one else wants to believe them. Bosa has been terrorizing ships and peoples for a long time, and a threat like that just can’t be snuffed out out of the minds and souls of milliions of people overnight.

While the first novel is told exclusively from the perspective of Arafura, SHADOW CAPTAIN switches POV to that of her sister, Adrana. Both sisters were at the receiving end of Bosa Sennen’s cruelty in REVENGER. Adrana even more so than what we saw Arafura experience. And although the ever-cycling persona of Bosa Sennen has now been ended by these two sisters, the lingering effects of their interactions with the vicious pirate will come into play in large effect over the course of this story and the future, despite what either of them has to say about it.

After several months on the float, the newly named Revenger, is quickly running out of fuel. To this point, the Ness sisters and the rest of their crew have been doing their best to avoid interaction with other space-faring ships. Their night-black Sunjammer, salvaged after Bosa Sennen’s death, is still renowned throughout the tens of thousands of worlds of the Congregation. And as with any space-faring ship, it’s fuel is a non-renewable resource that dwindles and must periodically be replaced. Despite their best efforts, the crew finally come to the conclusion that they have to risk approaching one of the populated worlds to buy more fuel or risk becoming a permanent addition to the very cold and very silent reaches of space. Happily, they have a very large supply of the uniquely intriguing currency of the Congregation due to their predecessor’s efforts, and so at least that difficulty has been removed from the table.

As with REVENGER, this novel feels young adultish. The two main protagonists of the story are now about 19, but they’re definitely an example of characters that have had to “grow up early”. The story is on the simple side of things, only occasionally delving into the author’s wondrously cosmic understanding of the universe at large and concepts of hard science. While this will lend the story to younger readers, along with its decided lack of profanity, the novel still deals with several adult themes that pulled it mostly out of the YA genre for me. The fact that these main characters are relatively young made no difference to me, however, as I was easily sucked into the narrative that is woven around them.

Although still important to the universe at large, the baubles play a significantly lesser role in this story. If you don’t remember what those were, I give a good description of them in my review for REVENGER. Their inclusion to the universe at large makes this story feel very post-apocalyptic, as it likely should. One of the details I enjoyed more this time around was the descriptions and surroundings once the girls get off-ship. While there are still periods of “talking heads” (as I mentioned in my previous review) the story never once felt like it lagged or caused my attention to wane. Always there was movement, whether concerning the internal conflicts of the girls and how those difficulties impacted their actions, or the external conflicts of the ship and those hunting her. The climax to the book was especially satisfying for me, as the lead up was one of those that had me both cringing and giggling in turns.

More of the story from Revenger that handles the fallout from the antagonist of the previous book. Fun, enjoyable, intriguing, and well worth the read.

The one disappointment I had with the story was the seeming minimal development of those story aspects that formed the direction of the follow-up novel, mostly contained within the denouement. The first part of which concerns a late-arrival character and the second a growing mystery concerning the multiple occupations (dynasties?) of the worlds of the Congregation and Bosa Sennen’s interest in them. I felt like both of these pieces to the story could have used some more attention while still keeping the story moving, and significantly enhanced the ending of the book. Still, the overwhelmingly large majority of the story was absolutely brilliantly good and I can’t help but give it my hearty approval.

If you enjoyed REVENGER, you’ll very likely enjoy this one as well. Reynolds is consistent in providing great story and engaging character set in a universe that is filled with wonder, mystery, and danger. He once again shows why he’s so highly regarded as an author and one of my favorites to read. Can’t wait to see the next!

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Maybe one or two mild usages of profanity. Really clean.
  • Violence: Most of the violence is implicit, but there are a few deaths that don't get overly gory
  • Sex: None

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