Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds

Arafura Ness has a problem. With an overprotective father on one side, an over-adventurous sister on another, and a single-minded robot babysitter on the other, Arafura Ness is being pulled in more directions than she can handle. What’s a girl to do? Obviously, the answer is run away to space. It’s dangerous, true, but what’s out there in the black is the least of Arafura’s worries. If she can survive her new crew without being thrown out into the Empty, that’ll be enough for her.

It’s never that easy, though, especially in a world where the only thing left to the lonely spindle worlds and wheelworlds and shellworlds of the Congregation, huddling at one end of the galaxy closest to the dying sun of old Earth, is digging up the past and selling it off one bauble at a time, trying to remember all the glories of old civilizations. Just when Arafura and her sister Adrana start to feel like they’re part of something, like they’re going somewhere with their lives, it all goes wrong, and Arafura will have to go deeper than anyone’s dared to try to make it right.

Revenger is an adventure tale, start to finish, and a distinct departure from his past galaxy-spanning science fiction odysseys. Arafura’s is a character-based plot, driven by personality and pain, with the kind of energy that only sisterly outrage can bring. Those used to Reynolds’ detached narration may be surprised by the steep drop he takes into the Wild West world of the Congregation, the frontier-town feeling of space-farers and planet-dwellers alike. The world building he’s put into this novel is both satisfying and entertaining.

Lovers of space opera and adventure science fiction will be drawn to the fast-paced tale of two sisters who just want to get away and see the world beyond their little planet. Fans of Star Wars and other galaxy-spanning tales will enjoy both the plot and descriptions of space ships, planets, and aliens. Revenger is a novel you’ll want to read all at once, spurred on by one of the oldest stories in the world: revenge and redemption.

 

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Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard

What
is the difference between good and good enough?  Sisters Imogene and Marin have been asking themselves this
question nearly their entire lives. 
Imogen is a budding novelist, Maren a professional ballet dancer; both
are looking for that one break that will take them from maybe to
break-out.  Enter Melete, a
prestigious artists’ retreat where creators in nearly every discipline go to
focus solely on their craft, and sometimes leave with everything they ever
dreamed of.

Roses and Rot is a slow spiral, deeper
into Imogen’s past and the otherworldly atmosphere at Melete.  Told by Imogen, who is interested in
fairy tales, layer after layer is peeled back from a world that is not what it
seems, much in the way that children shed their fancies and imaginings on the
way to adulthood. 

It would be easy
to compare this novel to Neil Gaiman’s work, and though it shares many
similarities in tone and atmosphere—particularly to his later work—Howard has
crafted a story that interrogates the supernatural aspects with which many
readers are fascinated, while staying firmly grounded in the lives of the
people experiencing the very real events in which they are embroiled.  Because some facts and experiences are
all too real, particularly the Imogen and Marin’s painful childhood with an
abusive mother. 

This is a novel
that finds whimsy and beauty in the greater world while at the same time always
remembering that darkness exists in a very visceral way.  Readers looking for a fantasy novel
that doesn’t flinch from dark topics while still treating them with sensitivity
will enjoy Howard’s take on fairy tales and art.  Those looking for urban fantasy with a
strong contemporary feel will enjoy Howard’s worldbuilding and style.  Those who enjoy stories that push the
boundaries between fiction and metafiction are encouraged to check out this
deeply character-driven fantasy novel.