renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
Renay ([personal profile] renay) wrote in [community profile] ladybusiness2017-02-27 12:26 pm

Let's Get Literate! Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger had all the things that sounded directly up my alley:
  • sisters leaving home to have adventures
  • ladies learning cool new things about the world
  • heists at dangerous locales
  • pirates!
  • ominous tales of a ruthless captain
  • bloody revenge
  • team ups
Friends, it is true that this book contains all of those things and they were wonderful. Not only did I get those, Alastair Reynolds read my mind and gave me the following:
  • robot pals
  • grudging partnerships
  • ladies being brutal in order to save people they love and themselves
  • cool gadgets
  • mysterious worldbuilding
Revenger was an exciting ride from start to finish, with periods of quiet plot development followed by the literary version of Rock'Em Sock'em Robots. It takes a little bit to get immersed in the world, because Reynolds sets his far future science fiction novel in a future so advanced that it's circled back on itself so much it's returned to Victorian England. It's like a space opera banged a steampunk novel on the set of a Hollywood production of a sea adventure with what Americans think 19th century pirates sounded like.

Revenger dabbles in how we grow as people: what people and events in our lives shape us, cover of Revenger how their choices and our choices affect who we become, and how we learn to live with with the things that happen to us on that journey, whether we had a say in them or not. This is not a novel with a lot of depth about the individual (the narrative is too tied to one character), but rather about what choices people make and how that can change a person forever. Revenger is 100% from Arafura Ness's perspective. That changes how this world looks a little bit because Fura's life shifts dramatically multiple times. The novel takes place over the course of a few months. How much change and what emotional weight does it need to have to alter who we are as people forever? Is it okay if we don't regret who we've become even if we know we could have made different choices?

Also, the novel plays around with the patriarchy in a very odd way that I'm not sure what to make of yet: in this far future, family doctors can administer drugs that prevent children (in this case, girls) from growing older (ick ick ick), leaving them in a permanent state of reliance on family members and legally stranded in childhood. In Revenger's case, we get to watch a father treat his daughters like property, drug them against their will, and generally be an oppressive dirtbag. The critique of these actions is somewhat paralleled via cool robots, but is never fully explored because the book is so focused on Fura's desire for revenge. Her need for it blanks out everything else. I was a little let down that the novel didn't wage more of a critique than it did before effectively wiping the slate clean so it became a non-issue. I'm not wild about watching girls and women being attacked and abused by their loved ones, especially when it feels like a novel is using it as a bit of window dressing. It was a pretty disappointing section in this novel where otherwise women have full autonomy to move about the world. Stop having men abuse girls and women as plot points! Stop sweeping the fallout under the metaphorical rug! Stop punishing girls and women for claiming their autonomy! Stop creating oppressive systems if you're not going to fully critique them in a robust way! That middle section, oof. Watch out.

Revenger also suffers from Sunshine-syndrome (Sunshine by Robin McKinley, the book that should have had a sequel!!! ~weeping forever~). The worldbuilding is immense, but the novel is very focused on Fura's journey from quiet suburban girl to terror in the void. Once Fura's journey ends, the book also ends, leaving a ton of material on the table for reader to claw at their face over. The end, in fact, somehow manages to raise more questions about the world than I developed in the preceding 400 pages.

Revenger has a nicely readable style, the worldbuilding is neat, the narrative is quirky and different, and I enjoyed the ride a whole lot. The weakest things about the novel include the fact that it didn't manage to stick the landing because it left too many threads hanging and it still believes that the best punishment for disobeying your male authority figures is a serious personal loss (no matter how much the narrative attempts to dress up the choice as Fura's own desire). But the good things about it outweigh the bad, including the relationship Fura has with her sister, the mentor that takes her under wing, and her growth as a relatively confident girl into a competent, if brutal, leader.

More sister-pirates on adventures in space, please.