Bone Silence is the third and final (for now) novel in Alastair Reynold’s Revenger sequence. I really enjoyed the previous two novels, chronicling the adventures of the infamous Ness sisters, their ship, and their motley crew, and was looking forward to seeing what happened next. And I’ll tell you right now, it was worth it. There’s a lot going on in these pages. There’s Reynold’s trademark elaborate, complex worldbuilding, each piece of the wider universe sliding into place as smoothly as a cog in an elaborate clock. the Ness sisters, whose growth from naïve country bumpkins to hardened pirates, with their own code and their own quests has been a delight to watch. And that’s before exploring the complex weave of emotion and action which binds two very different siblings together. mysteries still to be investigated, whose solving promises to shake the foundations of the universe. There’s politics and knives in the dark, moments of despair and abject terror. This is a story which will draw you into its pages with dazzling, high concept science fiction, then throw out an emotional gut punch. This is a story to make you end up in the metaphorical gutter, looking up at the stars.
Just to be clear, I really enjoyed this one.
I’ve talked about the world (or worlds) of this series before. But to recap: this is the Congregation. It’s a rich necklace of worlds wrapped in their own orbits around an old sun. Each of the worlds is small, ranging from meters to perhaps hundreds of miles across. And they dodge and weave around each other in a delicately elaborate dance of celestial mechanics, one which nobody entirely understands. There’s a sense of age and loss permeating the text; the Congregation is old, filled with baubles - containing of earlier, more scientifically advanced times (as well as lethal traps). There’s a melancholy to it, a sense of decline, as humanity seems to have fallen from greater heights to scrapping in the gutter. If the Congregation is a marvel, those who live in it are all too familiar, all too human. Avaricious. Vengeful. Compassionate. Loving. Traitors and fools, thieves and scholars, all of the best and worst of us on display.
Between the worlds fly ships of interstellar commerce, in a way which would be familiar to Nelson (or, perhaps more appropriately, Horatio Hornblower). Plying the deeps on solar sails, these ships are delicate, complicated things, and those who take them out into space are odd, driven, complicated people. Also, sometimes, pirates. Because shooting holes in the sails of another interplanetary craft, boarding it and stripping it of cargo is entirely possible.
This is a universe to stir the blood and call out to the soul, as tiny glistening drops traverse the endless deeps of space.
That’s before we even get to the aliens. Because humanity isn’t alone in the universe. Out there somewhere are other species. More advanced than humanity. Holding the levers of power – government, finance, policing. Quite what they want and why they want it has been one of the mysteries of the series, and if more light falls on some of those questions here, I shan’t delve into the detail. I’ll say this though: the story is one about fulfilling your curiosity, about the price and reward of doing so. As the end approaches, some of the big questions will be answered, though by the final page you may find yourself with more questions than you started with.
After focusing on each of the Ness sisters in turn in previous books, here we get to see them side-by-side. Their stories are woven together with interleaving chapters, each having their own viewpoint. It’s a testament to Reynold’s skill that both sisters feel distinct, genuine, and having vivid personalities in their own right. You won’t mistake Fura, boiling with a slowly rising rage, driven to acts of violence and compassion in equal measure, with the more collected, but equally tormented . Their voices are as different as their stories – but as those personal narratives wrap around each other, they make something greater than they are alone. The Ness sisters are a triumph of characterisation. They’re both damaged, yes. Physically and mentally struggling. Trying to make decisions for the lives in their hands, trying to serve their goals, to uncover answers to the mysteries that plague the congregation and, incidentally, to stay alive. But they’re compassionate, and willing to hold the line and die with (or for) their crew. They’re sometimes ruthless, sometimes riven with doubt, occasionally wise or compassionate, always curious. They’re heroines, shaped by circumstances which might have broken them, but have instead bound them to common purpose, and left them burning more brightly and more fiercely than the Old Sun. Their story, and that of their crew, is an absolute pleasure to read.
As for that story: as ever, I shall try for no spoilers. But it has a sense of wonder to it. As I said above, there are big questions here, about humanity’s place in the universe. About why that universe is the way it is. About the economy, about sous, about the real agenda of the aliens walking the congregation. There are new marvels unveiled, and old horrors stalking the streets. antagonists so vile you can feel their presence seeping off the page, and flights of grand imagination which left me breathless. Reynolds has pulled out all the stops here, and given the Ness sisters a conclusion which you’ll remember; this is one of those stories that you won’t want to end. I was left torn between needing to know what happened next, and hoping not to turn the final page.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying this is a great story, and a cracking conclusion to the series. If you’ve come this far with the Ness sisters, you’ll want to take this voyage too. I promise, it.