Descendant Machine is the second in Gareth L Powell’s Continuance series, following on from 2022’s Stars and Bones. While that first book will give readers a deeper understanding of the universe that Powell has created, no deep knowledge of it is needed to enjoy the sequel. The basics are covered well enough and there are only extremely tangential connections to the main events of that book. That said, while Stars and Bones was a solid, if slightly derivative scifi read, Descendant Machine is a better book that its predecessor in pretty much every way.
Once again, the action centres around a sentient space ship, the VSS Frontier Chic, and its pilot Nicola Mafalda. After a traumatic incident, Mafalda is put back to work, asked to reconnect with the four-armed alien, but strangely human-compatible, Jazt. A rogue elements of the Jazt are trying to unlock the secrets of a giant object in their solar system. Nicola and her crew have been tasked with finding the one Jazt with the answers to what the object is before someone manages to get it operational. What they find, besides a supersized, ancient starship, is much more than they bargained for and a potentially galaxy-ending threat.
Descendant Machine is great space adventure that while part of a series can be easily be read on its own. Powell got past all of the set-up and established the rules of his universe in Stars and Bones and now just seems content to play in his universe. There are still eldritch machines, laser battles, space chases and galactic stakes. But there is also a lightness to Descendant Machine, engaging characters, and a great sense of humour that helps it all go down smoothly.