Pros: Stunning universe; amazing characters; engrossing story
Cons: Slight bit more exposition than in “Crystal Rain”
Rating: 5 out of 5
Nashara Cascabel is on a mission. She has returned to humanity from the cut-off world of Chisom to help free it from the oppressive, mind-controlling Satrapy. Unfortunately, the Satrapy has just decided that humanity may be more trouble than it’s worth, and they’re already after Nashara. Luckily they don’t know what she really has inside of her: a weapon that could enable her to take over the ships and machines of the Satrapy, given the right circumstances. So, together with the Ragamuffins—a bunch of miscreant traders one might loosely call pirates—Nashara must find a way to not only survive, but keep humanity alive. There are a couple of complications, however, standing in the way: the Hongguo, humans working willingly for the Satrapy; the pathetic state of the Ragamuffins themselves; the Satrapy vessel that can close off the wormholes that connect one area of space to another; the meddling, terroristic and xenophobic League of Human Affairs; and the fact that the wormhole to New Anegada, long closed off, has opened, and disgorged an alien vessel.
Crystal Rain told the tail of John deBrun, an amnesiac who found himself called on to save the country of Nanagada from the alien Teotl and their human servants, the Azteca. While it’s possible that you might be able to read Ragamuffin as a standalone, I wouldn’t recommend it: its tale does merge once again with that of Nanagada and John deBrun, and it would be best to have that background. On the very positive side, this means that we aren’t left bereft of the amazing characters created in that first book; I for one was quite glad to see them again!
Once again, where do I start? Tobias Buckell has created a grand and fascinating universe within the pages of Ragamuffin. He clearly excels at universe-building and character creation; everything he details positively comes alive, whether it’s a dying space habitat, a distant alien Satrap, or the sheer chaos of facing a copy of one’s self and having a chat.
Surprises and revelations flow naturally and aren’t used to artificially ratchet up the tension or bolster the pace. This means that if you figure something out in advance, it doesn’t cause an anticlimax or rob the story of its momentum. The story is fast-paced and intriguing, and I had difficulty putting it down once I started (in fact I first picked it up during a lull in something else, and ended up putting that first activity aside because the book was too engrossing).
Again, I’m not sure how to detail everything I loved about this book. The characters are amazing and fascinating, every bit as much so as in Crystal Rain. In most authors’ hands the League of Human Affairs would have been a one-dimensional organization, but in Buckell’s hands even it comes alive with personality. We’re reunited with John, Jerome, and yes, even Pepper, who are dealing with a whole new (and very different) invasion of Nanagada by the Teotl. Not only do we enjoy the presence of old friends, but we get to watch them grow and change in new and different ways as they face new difficulties.
Crystal Rain was an absolutely stunning debut, and Ragamuffin is a wholly worthy successor. It’s a touch slower in places due to the background provided on some of the aspects of the world, but not enough to detract from the novel in my opinion.
Note: This was a review of an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) and thus I cannot review it for presence or lack of editing & typos.