Alastair Reynolds wraps up his space pirate series (for now) with the rollicking Bone Silence. After a strong swashbuckling opening in Revenger, the sequel Shadow Captainfelt a little becalmed. But in Bone Silence, this series is back at its best with non-stop action, constant cliffhangers, and at last some answers to some abiding questions. Given this is the third book in a trilogy, the following review may contain some spoilers.
The Ness sisters, Adrana and Arafura, and their crew are on the run after the civilisation changing events of Shadow Captain which altered the nature of quoins, the accepted currency across the Confederacy. They are now being pursued not only by those who think that they are in pursuit of the dread (but no dead) pirate Bosa Sennen but also by the financial might of the Confederacy, represented by the Revenue Service. When they barely escape from a stop they need to make with some needed medicines, the sisters pick up a small, hibernating alien known as a Clacker. They promise to take him to another world, Trevenza Reach, in return for answers to some of their questions. After raiding another ship, they find that a group of ships, led by a dangerous and implacable foe, has discovered them. From that point, the action does not let up.
Bone Silence is space opera stylist Reynolds back at his best. The deep, ancient universe he has built for this series, full of giant constructed worlds, a range of alien species and a complicated history, continues to impress and the reveals only hint at a larger, more complex situation than is dealt with in these books. But this is also a pirate adventure and, once again, Reynolds leans heavily on pirate tropes – the ships are powered by solar sail and everyone speaks in a slightly piratical fashion. Unlike previous books which had some focus on finding “buried” treasure – this time, the object is understanding some of the truths behind the universe.
The pace is helped by the fact that the Ness sisters are separated early on and set and on very different trajectories. Fura’s story is a straight out space battle against the odds while Adrana encounters a revolution in her quest to reveal some ancient secrets. Stakes are high, no character is safe and the action does not let up. And while Reynolds says in an afterward that he is finished with the Ness sisters for now, he leaves plenty of threads that could be picked up again sometime down the track.