Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

IMG_5094.JPG

Another first for me as I review both the book and the audiobook of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds. Check out the blurb below..

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives. And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them…

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded with layers of protection – and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortuneā€¦

This has been billed as a Young Adult science fiction novel and, whilst it isn’t the usual hard sci-fi of Alastair Reynolds, that takes nothing away from story. It’s still brilliant, big idea stuff and, as ever with Reynolds, the worldbuilding is wonderful, creating a universe both far futuristic and alien with equal measure. Hints and ideas come together to form a fantastical picture, mixing space ships and pirate lore to produce an engrossing setting.

Written as an account of events by the younger sister Fura Ness this is a tale that will engage readers of all ages. Signing on board the ‘Monetta’s Mourn’ in an attempt to change the fortunes of their family, the siblings are soon caught up in all manner of trouble. Whilst the crew they’ve joined are a hardened bunch, there’s a difference between expeditioners and pirates and Fura gets to see the truth of it first hand.

Her sister taken hostage and herself left on a broken ship with only dead crew mates for company, Fura begins a transformation that will see her put everything aside to seek her vengeance. There’s something that harks back to Treasure Island here but there’s also something darker and edgier at its heart.

The cadence of the story, the slang and colloquial language, the hints of a much greater conspiracy and the immediate threats all combine into a gripping page-turner. Fura is an uncompromising character but it isn’t until the final chapters that things really become clear. Revenger is a tale of retribution and in no short measure; the idea so cleverly woven into Fura’s narrative is how that desire for vengeance warps a person in ways that make them closer to their enemy, closer to the dark, than they ever expected to be.

Alastair Reynolds is a fantastic novelist and his first foray into YA fiction is nothing short of incredible.

Audio book review

This is the first audio book I’ve listened to and it was an interesting exercise. The narrator chosen is clearly skilled at acting as she gives voice to the numerous characters that Fura encounters. Though some sounded different to how I imagined them, I’m positive this is only an issue as I chose to read Revenger first.

Listening to the book offers a different perspective on the story – a slower, more considered one. The ensemble of actors come to the fore slightly more yet the pace of the tale remains, slowly dragging you deeper into Revenger with each chapter.

Personally, I felt that the audio version didn’t do enough justice to the change within Fura that felt so obvious in the book. This is a tale of revenge; of total and absolute vengeance. Fura does everything it takes to find her sister, including some fairly extreme measures. From the teenage girl she was, at the end of the story she has become furious, unhinged to some degree and unwilling to give any quarter, reshaped mentally and physically to the point that her own sister struggled to recognise her. That is what makes Revenger such a fantastic read. In the end, Fura is closer to her enemies than she’d like to admit yet it isn’t something she’d change. Audio version or book, the last chapter of Revenger is a bombshell of a conclusion.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

20140711-183701-67021458.jpg

The third instalment in Ian McDonald’s Everness series, Empress of the Sun pushes the notion of YA literature to its boundaries. I’ve only read two young adult series before: the ubiquitous Harry Potter novels, devoured whilst completing my Masters, and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, enjoyed whilst recovering from a broken leg. Ian McDonald’s series deserves to be mentioned alongside those other brilliant YA, coming-of-age type adventures. However, there is a certain darkness and a certain budding adulthood that is maybe lacking in either of those mentioned.

Both Rowling and Pullman’s novels feature struggle and hardship, loss and the battle of good against evil. But, where McDonald diverges is in his ability to make grey those hard choices, to muddy the moral waters of his young protagonist. He also does this against a background of youth as it exists today, particularly in London. The obsession with phones, computers, fashion and football all mingled in with teenage angst that even made this ageing beard hark back to those awkward times.

The Everness series follows Everett Singh as he attempts to track down his father, a scientist kidnapped by a shadowy organisation and taken to a parallel world. Everett is, himself, a bit of a maths wizard and discovers that his father has given him the ‘infundibulum’ – a map to understand and conjure portals to anywhere I’m the multitude of parallel Earths. The series is one long, fantastic thesis on brilliant world building as Everett discovers more worlds, more alien Earths and more strange and intriguing characters – some alternatives to those he knows on his own Earth. It’s on these adventures that he becomes a crew member on an airship (think Zeppelin) as he jumps around the multiverse, battling those who took his father, a version of himself cruelly made into a cyborg, an unrelenting swarm of nanobots intent on total sublimation along with his own angst and fears.

Empress of the Sun does two things brilliantly. It shows the development of Everett as he loses his innocence and idealism and takes on tough, horrible choices. It shows the change from boy into teenager and the struggle it can be. But, importantly, it places Everett firmly in a world (or worlds) where nothing is black or white. The other thing it does is provide a thrilling adventure in a stunningly creative setting where dinosaurs are super evolved beings with millions of years in advanced technology. Everett and the crew are being hunted, their backs to the wall, but still needing to save the known worlds and stay one step ahead of their enemies.

Ian McDonald manages to weave a number of themes and stories brilliantly into his series. His science is believable and deftly handled, his characters (especially the teens) crackle with life, his multiverse is fascinating and the plot is driven with intrigue, emotion and conflict. The Everness books are wonderfully and beautifully written, epitomising what YA literature should be; hugely entertaining yet thoughtful and intelligent.