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Shadow Captain
Revenger, book 2
by Alastair Reynolds
Orbit Books, $15.99, 423pp
Published: January 2019

Adrana and her sister Arafura live in a time so far removed from our time that it’s even more a stretch than transplanting a 1st century serf into 2021.  Even though it’s been millions of years of human history, human nature is fundamentally the same. Adrana and Fura left their father and took employment on a salvage ship in the first book.  The ship was attacked and Adrana was kidnapped by a vicious psychopathic Captain who needed her skills.  Fura managed to hide and escape but is taken back to her father since she is still underage.  She later escapes her father with the help of the other lone survivor and together they hatch a plan to take over a ship with the intent of finding Adrana and destroying the dreaded Captain Bosa.  Once they take over Bosa’s ship, they now have a state-of-the-art ship capable of taking them anywhere in the galaxy.  The only problem is…everyone who sees it will think it’s really Bosa and most of the known galaxy would love to kill her.  It makes it a bit hard to pickup supplies or make trades.

In a somewhat desperate need to pickup fuel, the new crew decides to make for an obscure poor little wheelworld.  But even there, Bosa’s distinctive ship will be recognized so they need to do what they can to disguise it.  Along the way a couple of the crew have a suspicion that they are being followed.  They make a clever maneuver and aim their guns into what they believe to be the following ship’s sails; they have no intention of being taken but they aren’t out to murder, either.  Unfortunately, they hadn’t realized there were two ships following and they mistakenly destroy the other ship.  Their protests that it wasn’t their intention fall on deaf ears as everyone is convinced that Bosa attacked a ship unprovoked, again.  They make port on the wheelworld and believe their story and disguise have worked but the longer they stay, the more it seems that the tyrant who runs the place has other plans for them.  It becomes a race to see if they will be able to leave the wheelworld intact and before the hunters who followed them find them.

But the choice of landing on the wheelworld was less happenstance than intention, as Adrana discovers.  Fura had a specific goal in mind when she casually directed their attention to that world in particular.  Her goal was to find a man who used to crew for Bosa; Fura was convinced that he knew how to find Bosa’s ‘buried treasure.’  Adrana is disturbed and fearful of what Fura’s subterfuge means for their relationship and partnership in captaining the ship. But Fura wasn’t wrong.  She just wasn’t prepared for what they found.

Adrana worries about her own sanity since Bosa had spent quite a bit of time brainwashing her. But Fura has issues, too; in hunting Bosa to rescue Adrana, Fura began to identify with Bosa’s goals and tactics.  Both women doubt each other because of Bosa’s influence.  Their relationship seems to be the only thing that grounds them both; another lie or subterfuge might be enough to disrupt it altogether.  And searching for Bosa’s treasure puts a definite strain on them.  To gain Adrana’s cooperation, Fura promises to next turn the ship’s resources to Adrana’s desire. 

Adrana’s desire stems from a puzzle presented to her by Fura.  The known history of the human race only encompasses a few thousand years. The epochs are counted as “occupations” when a civilization rises up and then falls; there have been twelve over millions of years.  Most of the civilizations are gone and the only artifacts left are found on baubles.  No history remains of them.  But Fura found a document that implies there were many more than twelve; lots more.  But no one seems to remember them and Adrana puzzles over what that means to the human race – is the civilization they live in now doomed to fail…and sooner rather than later?  She eventually develops a theory about what has caused the cycles but searching out the answer will cost ship’s resources and requires her sister’s cooperation; cooperation that was bought when Adrana supported her search for Bosa’s treasure.

It might be that the catastrophe caused by opening Bosa’s treasure trove and the cause of the ‘occupations’ are linked. And there’s still the mystery of just what the alien Crawlies want with humanity and their interest in human currency, the quoins. It’s an awfully convoluted and interesting puzzle, not yet solved.  I’m counting on a really big payoff when this series is concluded.

The plot is everything in this story; the worldbuilding is complex.  I’m still not clear on what a bauble is but I’m getting closer; but we do learn exactly what is a swallower.  A lot was explained about where all the inhabited worlds came from that circle their sun.  But much is still left unexplained; leaving the reader to wonder if we’ll ever get all the answers or, like Adrana, be left wondering what it all means.  Mostly I’m fascinated with the view of a future humanity that is so far removed from us, historically, that it’s all unfamiliar.  It’s a fun ride. I can hardly wait to start the third and final book of this series.   ~~  Catherine Book

For more titles by Alastair Reynolds click here

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