by Tobias Buckell
320 pp. Tor. $24.95
Reviewed by Paul Stotts
Do you enjoy space opera with a little
Luckily, Tobias Buckell decided to enlighten me and write “Ragamuffin”, a Caribbean-styled space opera extravaganza (minus the singing and dancing). I can honestly say it is the best one I’ve ever read, but that doesn’t add to this discussion. “Ragamuffin” takes place in the same universe Buckell created in his fine debut novel, “Crystal Rain”. However, it is not a straight sequel, but more of a standalone with a few recurring elements. The characters of John deBrun, Pepper and Jerome, introduced in “Crystal Rain”, return in “Ragamuffin”, but the story is not a direct continuation of the storyline from the previous novel.
The universe which is a collection of forty-eight worlds connected by a network of wormholes is ruled by the mysterious Benevolent Satrapy (not like we would expect them to name themselves the Malevolent Satrapy). The Satrapy employ the Hongguo as their military arm, using them to curb the development of technology. Humans are treated as a lower caste in the universe, relegated to a various collection of their own colonies and habitats. Nashara is on the run after killing a Gahe breeder at Pitt’s Cross. Barely escaping the planet, Nashara is trying to stay one step ahead of the Hongguo. She finally finds refuge on a Ragamuffin ship. The Ragamuffins are pirates and rebels that maintain their own free society near a dead wormhole. Eventually, Nashara and the crew of Ragmuffins will uncover the insidious plans of the Benevolent Satrapy and the Hongguo.
Meanwhile, John deBrun, Pepper and Jerome are living on Nanagada, when a wormhole above the planet reopens. The Teotl, the alien gods worshipped by the Azteca, have returned, and enlist John, Pepper and Jerome to help them. The Teotl’s survival is in jeopardy, and outside help is needed. Can the Ragamuffins help? Will Nanagadans save the Teotl? Will Nashara escape the Hongguo? And can the Ragamuffins survive the advancing Hongguo onslaught?
The uniqueness and creativity of Buckell’s universe cannot be understated. The universe is vividly imagined and developed. The story is more mature than “Crystal Rain”, as more complications evolve over the course of the novel, and the overall depth of story is more comprehensive. Short chapters of only a few pages keep the action moving for a fast-paced and enjoyable read. Buckell’s character development has also matured from his debut novel. The characters are not as flat, and harbor more complicated motivations for their actions. I still would like to see more world-building in Buckell’s novels; he has so many interesting ideas that I would love to see explored further. But at this point, Buckell appears satisfied in writing fast-paced enjoyable action novels. Still, this is a strong sophomore effort.
“Ragamuffin” is a solid step forward for Tobias Buckell. Showing a maturing sense of story and character development, Buckell has written a tremendously engaging space opera with a slew of turns and twists along the way. If Buckell continues to show the same rate of improvement, his future looks extremely bright.
Final Grade: 76 out of 100