Adrana and her sister Arafura live in a time and place that staggers the imagination. At some point in the dim past, millions of years before, humans made a decision to dispose of the planets in their solar system and use the resources to build innumerable small worlds set to orbiting the sun. The worlds come in many shapes and sizes. Travel is only viable within the solar system; there is no interstellar travel. And yet, somehow, there are aliens among them; several different species. And at least one of them controls all the monetary resources and the humans are happy to allow it. What isn’t apparent to the humans is that they are being manipulated by the aliens to collect artifacts called quoins which represent currency. Quoins are found and harvested within things called baubles which are still somewhat of a mystery even after three books. The best I can figure out is that one of the previous civilizations and there have been many over millions of years built baubles as a sort of vault and stored stuff in them. In Adrana’s and Fura’s time, many people make a good living being scavengers who work at opening baubles and extracting treasure. Human know their history has been a patchwork of many civilizations rising and then falling; although little remains to identify those people and how they lived; or how they made the artifacts left behind. Even less remains to explain why civilizations rise and fall but Adrana has a very dangerous idea that there’s a good explanation and she fears that their current civilization has an end date coming soon. Fura is still determined to solve the mystery of the quoins: why do they change, why do the aliens need them, and what is their real purpose. Eventually, the sisters come to recognize their mysteries may be related.
Fura takes a commission to transport an alien to a far world called Trevenza Reach, quite possible the oldest inhabited world in the system. The trouble is, an awful lot of people or aliens want him dead. And the sisters are being systematically hunted by an organized group who are convinced they are murderers. In an attempt to save themselves from the hunters, they end up acquiring another ship. In a fine bit of irony, they were in process of pirating that ship’s skull and other resources when they found themselves saving it from destruction at the hands of the hunters and eventually partnering with its crew.
The two ships separate, each with a sister as Captain. One ship with the alien and the other with two injured crew members who need immediate medical attention. The hunters know only of one ship so one is to draw them away while the alien is safely transported by the other. But when they both finally make port on Trevenza Reach, they are surprised to learn they are abetting a revolution and the alien is key to it. The alien is expected to move the world as a demonstration of their power which they plan to use to stage an economic revolution; freeing them of the quoins and allowing the quoins to achieve their designed purpose: to save all of humanity.
There is so much more to the story, this is really a bare bones synopsis. With over 600 pages to fill, Reynolds fills in so many of the gaps he placed in the first two books and expands the story to epic proportions. Some concepts are explained but others have to remain unexplained as Adrana’s and Fura’s civilization simply has no information. But they do manage to puzzle out so much that their discoveries will overturn everything anyone thinks they know about their place in the system.
Character development focused primarily on the sisters, of course. Supporting characters don’t get much past the surface. Plot and world-building is everything to this series. I can’t imagine how much went into developing this plot; for a science fiction series, it’s positively epic. And I thought the ending was ever so appropriate and even charming.
After finishing two series by Reynolds, I’ve become convinced that he is the master of science fiction space opera and epic story lines; not something you see a lot of in this genre. Fortunately, there are still unread Reynolds out there for me. ~~ Catherine Book
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