Book review: Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds
Bone Silence - Alastair Reynolds
After a middle-volume hiatus that involved little more than our reluctant space pirates arriving on a new world and getting off it again, there's some hope that the third volume of Alastair Reynolds' Revenger series might get back to resolving some of the mysteries and intrigues that have arisen over the previous two books (Revenger, Shadow Captain). And it does, but in a book that feels considerably longer than the previous two combined, Bone Silence takes us on a slow and not always gripping journey to an outcome that at least feels appropriately grand in scale.
But first the fearsome bauble hunters turned space pirates the Ness sisters, Fura and Adrana, and their diminished crew need to find new bones: alien skulls from an ancient unknown civilisation long before the current Occupation of the system that can be used by those skilled and gifted enough to communicate across distances. They settle for Mulgracen, hoping to arrive incognito with no upsets, but there was never much chance of that being the case.
Nevertheless, after an incident with another ship, the Revenger crew have a new mission to bring an unusual cargo to Trevanza Reach, 17 million leagues away and it appears that the wanted Ness sisters are going to have a dangerous adversary on their tail for the 2 months that it will take to cross this distance.
Without giving away any spoilers, there are two main mysteries or intrigues that the reader of the previous two volumes will be looking to be answered. The first involves the nature of quoins, previously used as currency here but which now appear to have another purpose having lost their denomination and stability into the bargain, plunging the system into a kind of banking crisis. The other matter relates to a discovery of the number of Occupations in the 10 million year history of what is known as the Congregation. Could the two matters even be connected in some unimaginable way?
Well, Alastair Reynolds manages to (eventually) provide some unexpected developments in relation to those matters and for a while at least provides some mail-biting tension and explosive action along the journey to Trevanza Reach. Although it started out in Revenger as something of a YA steampunk space pirate adventure, the underlying serious tone has taken over, particularly as Fura and Adrana have now been through a lot and have grown up. We no longer have the youthful innocent perspective of ''The True and Accurate Testimony of Arafura Ness'' of the first book, which isn't necessarily for the better.
What Reynolds offers in its place however is a better balance of the camaraderie of the little people struggling to make a living but caught up in grander conspiracies and 'social experiments' that will deeply affect their lives. Along with the banking crisis that has occurred, it's not difficult to see the author has injected some contemporary real-world relevance into the storyline and it doesn't always sit comfortably. After the first fun volume and the less compelling second book, the 600 pages of Bone Silence can be hard work and it's debatable whether the outcome makes it worth persevering through to the end of this trilogy.