Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell follows up his debut novel, Crystal Rain, with an explosion of scale in Ragamuffin – we move from Caribbean-inspired steampunk/science fiction to full-blown space opera. Buckell is an action-packed, fun author of both subtly and brevity who is too often overlooked.

Ragamuffin begins by introducing Nashara, a human clone with modifications that upgrade her to ‘kick-ass’ and hold a nasty surprise weapon for the ruling alien empire, the Benevolent Satrapy. Nashara is on the run from an essentially failed mission, seeking a way to get home to one of the human dominated worlds long since cut-off from the empire. Humans have enjoyed a degree of independence as they survive on the fringes of the Satrapy, but a new policy of apparent elimination emerges as Nashara and others fight for survival. About half-way through the novel, Buckell rejoins the survivors on New Anagada from Crystal Rain and joins the two plot-lines – escalating things even further and leaving the promise of more to come in Sly Mongoose (August, 2008).

Buckell is oft lauded for a return to the roots of space opera with an interesting Caribbean spin – an adventure of the sort Hollywood drools over. This emphasizes the strength of Ragamuffin, while covering up the more subtle aspects that I found more enjoyable – battles, explosions, and general mayhem are great (and covered extensively in other reviews), but underlying these is some satisfying meat. Crystal Rain struggles with the ultimate weapon and the consequences of its use – we see both result and potential presented in various forms throughout. Ragamuffin evolves this theme further as we confront the reality of two species coming together to achieve a common goal – survival. The wrongs of the past cannot be forgotten and the way of the future is uncertain to say the least as each will do whatever they feel necessary to survive. Parallels to the world we live in are there, and in the blink of another explosion, Buckell moves on. Whatever the hope for the future is, Buckell doesn’t get there in Ragamuffin, but I eagerly await seeing where it does go in Sly Mongoose – surrounded I’m sure by explosions, war, and Pepper and Nashara kicking serious ass.

Buckell keeps things moving quickly and page counts relatively low. For me, this is a huge plus in spite of it raising a few issues. Characterization often suffers a bit for this – the main characters are generally portrayed well, others are caricatures and some leave us wanting much more. Of course this isn’t always the case as I literally applauded the death of a particularly annoying character that I suspect I wasn’t meant to applaud. At times the pacing can feel as if it moves in fits and starts and some relationships between characters seemingly spring from nowhere. But overall, these issues are minor and don’t spoil a refreshingly enjoyable read.

Ragamuffin builds on the strengths of Crystal Rain in a huge escalation of scale. These Caribbean-inspired books are loads of fun with something to offer all fans – highly recommended. 7.5/10

Related Posts: Review of Crystal Rain, Tobias Buckell Answers Questions Five

6 comments:

Kimber An said...

Great review! I have this ARC and Chrystal Rain too. I'll be reviewing them sometimes this summer.

Robert said...

Just one of those series I really need to read :) I'm pretty interested to see what you think of "The Court of the Air". Just started its sequel...

Neth said...

-kimber an

I hope you enjoy them - I did.

-Robert

I think you'd enjoy these books, so you should read them. The Court of the Air is interesting so far - I'm enjoying it, but the jury is still a long way from a verdict.

Robert said...

I have a copy of "Ragamuffin" but I still need to pick up "Crystal Rain". I'm about halfway through "The Kingdom Beyond the Waves" and so far I think it's a better novel than "The Court of the Air". So if you do end up enjoying the book, then you have something to look forward to :)

ThRiNiDiR said...

I held crystal rain in my hands the other day. it was on discount. i'm still hitting myself for not buying it. ah well...

RedEyedGhost said...

*slaps thrinidir upside the head*

What were you thinking? ;)

You should pick it when you get the chance again.

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