Friday, 20 July 2007

‘Ragamuffin’ – Tobias S. Buckell (Tor Books)

Thanks to Dot Lin, at Tor Books, for sending me this book to review. It’s not just any old book either; it’s a ‘Sci-Fi Essential’, part of a collaboration between Tor Books and the Sci-Fi Channel to highlight the best in new sci-fi/fantasy literature. I’m one of those people who really don’t like being told what is essential for them to read so I’ll admit that I approached this one with my customary cynicism. By the time I’d finished it, all cynicism had been thrown out of the window and replaced with that warm feeling you get when you’ve read a really good book. I want to read more of Tobias Buckell’s stuff!
The Benevolent Satrapy rules over forty-eight worlds that are connected by a system of wormholes. The only thing is that the Satrapy isn’t that benevolent any more, humans have always been repressed (and denied vital technology) but now the Satrapy is moving to wipe humanity out once and for all. A woman called Nashara is one of the reasons this is happening, not only has she killed one of the alien Gahe but she is also carrying proscribed technology within her, technology that could cause chaos across the galaxy. Ragamuffin smugglers are another reason; descended from the islands of a long lost earth these people have created their own way of life, outside Satrap rule, and now the Satrapy have decided to tighten their grip. Things will come to a head above the Chilo wormhole in a battle for technology that could either save the galaxy or close it off forever…
The front cover looks suspiciously ‘young adult’ but don’t let that put you off. Once you look inside you’ll be entering a world of death, revenge and heartbreak that is definitely for an adult audience, a dangerous galaxy that is the perfect backdrop for the story that sits in it. And what a story it is! Hard hitting and fast moving, ‘Ragamuffin’ sucked me in at the first page and left me gasping for breath by the time it finished. On the whole, the plot was sleek with no frills but there was one part that made me wonder why it had been included. The scenes on Agathonosis served their initial purpose (ship needed refuelling) but I was left wondering why the two children ended up tagging along and why they were a part of things in the first place. Buckell gets them on the ship and then it seems like he doesn’t really know what to do with them afterwards. One is dumped in a medical pod and the other pretty much left to get on with it on the periphery of things. It felt to me like a token attempt to tie up a loose end. Although a slight irritant, this did not spoil my overall enjoyment of the tale itself. The characters were deftly drawn and compelling in their actions, a trait of one particular character means there could be scope for sequels and I wouldn’t complain if this happened. The world building (or even galaxy building) was superb, just enough detail to immerse the reader in their surroundings without swamping them with too much information. The Caribbean element of the story was refreshing in it’s originality (I may be wrong but I haven’t read that much Caribbean sci-fi!) and gave this slice of space opera a neat little twist.
‘Ragamuffin’ was great fun to read and I look forward to seeing more of Tobias Buckell’s work in the future.

Nine out of Ten


Richard said...

I see you don't mention the predecessor, "Crystal Rain".

You need to go find it, I enjoyed it even more than "Ragamuffin", mind you that could have been because I came to the book with mixed expectations. I bought it after seeing Neal Asher praise it, also John Scalzi and Instapundit himself, Glenn Reynolds gave it great reviews. They didn't do it justice, the book is brilliant, probably the best I read last year.

Graeme Flory said...

I knew I forgot to mention something... I'm definitely going to be looking for a copy of 'Crystal Rain' to read (on the strength of 'Ragamuffin')
Tobias Buckell is actually giving away copies of both books (on his blog) to anyone who will review them on a blog or forum. I'm not sure if he will send one all the way to England but I'm giving it a go anyway!