Space + Pirates = swashbuckling, space faring adventures. With Pirates. In space. Space Pirates! Did I mention I love space pirates? Maybe I should mention that.
I also like Alastair Reynolds. I know him to be able to do fantastical world building that is at the same time totally crazy and yet believable. I very much enjoyed his Century Rain many years back. So I had some if not high than at least somewhat raised expectations.
But let’s start with world building. A big fact about this universe are the baubles, which is really a fancy way to say bubbles – which is really a non-technical way to say “self contained pocket dimensions”. At least that’s what I would call them. These baubles are full of interesting stuff to loot, so they’re like treasure islands in the vast of space. It really fits nicely with the overall pirate and treasure hunter theme.
Our heroine (and her sister) are bone readers, which means they use an alien skull as some kind of radio. I must admit that this is kind of the weak spot in the world building for me – why isn’t it called skull reading (there’s mention of the skull network), and why is this so important? As far as I can see it, bone readers are supposed to catch valuable rumors that other bone users talk into their skulls. It seems like the kind of thing that only feeds on itself – why are bone readers so valuable? If everybody simply stopped using them, how much would that really affect those space captains? That’s a part that demands a lot of suspension of disbelief.
Luckily enough, the bones are part of the story, but not the whole story. Because about 30 % in, everything goes pear shaped (as we all knew it would, right from the start), and the focal point of the story turns from bone reading and jolly adventures in baubles to revenge.
You wouldn’t have guessed it by the name of the story, right?
It’s also the point where I was seriously starting to doubt the way this novel was going. Against my better judgement (from the book’s blurb), the novel had started to feel a lot like a YA read. And that really clashes with the violence shown here. Now it’s beginning to look like the start of a brutal revenge movie (think Colombiana), but still paired with YA. Which makes me think this is YA for older readers, but it’s really an odd pairing of genres.
Luckily, at around the 60 % mark, the YA aspect takes a heavy step into the background, and for me, the real story begins. There’s a cyberpunk moment there, and I had the feeling everything before was some kind of prolonged prologue.
We need to talk about a few things. Characters are well defined, for the most part. There are some motivations I don’t really get, but overall that’s okay.
Pace is a different beast. It’s really slugging in the first 30 %, and becomes tolerable after that. Upon hitting the 60 % mark, the pace really picks up and it’s a page turner for the rest.
Which leaves me at one star redaction for each, the crude mix of genres (it’s not a YA in the end, not really) and the pace problems. I’m adding a half star back because the pace is great in the last 40 %, so 3.5 stars (rounded down to 3 to let some room for improvement for the next installment in the series).