Published by Tor
ISBN 0-7653-1507 -6
Set in the same world as his critically acclaimed debut novel Crystal Rain, Tobias Buckell’s Ragamuffin takes things off-planet into the vastness of space. Well, at least initially the story takes place in space. This new novel has the same derring-do as the previous novel, which can best be summed up by these two words: Space Pirates. Whereas Crystal Rain had more of a swashbuckling action, Ragamuffin has a more vindictive streak, there seems to be a heightened sense of danger. Perhaps the setting of space rather than a planetary setting adds to the heightened tension.
The novel begins in the midst of a revolution, of humans rebelling against their Satrapy controllers. Humans are deemed unfit to continue to live on under their own control. Their population and galactic spread are controlled by the Satrapy. Into this struggle, Buckell thrusts his his protagonist, Nashara, a revolutionary willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the oppressors. She is built up as a strong and confident character, an altogether powerful character. Buckell soon reveals Nashar isn’t completely human, she is a clone and a cyborg. So, our protagonist is a cloned cyborg pirate. That in itself is pretty cool, and Buckell makes the character more than a high-concept one-trick pony. He adds depth and character with great pace, giving Nashara a complex humanity.
Following on that theme, Ragamuffin shows that Buckell is not a one trick pony of a writer. At the outset of the novel, it isn’t entirely crystal clear that Ragamuffin is indeed a direct sequel. While Crystal Rain has more of a fantastical/planetary romance feel, with the mix of alien cultures, Ragamuffin the feel of a Space Opera. So even thematically, the novels differ enough. While Ragamuffin shares the same universe, the characters don’t carry over for the first portion of the novel. This allows Buckell to not relay on what he crafted in the previous novel and to flesh out his universe more fully.
By the second third of the novel, Buckell brings the story to the world of Nanaganda, where Pepper, John, and Jerome were last seen in Crystal Rain. Some time has passed since the tumultuous events and the three characters have the experience to show. It was almost a 180 switch when Buckell brought the focus on these characters, but it wasn’t an abrupt switch, if that makes sense. It was a delightful return to the characters and came across rather organically.
By the final third of the novel, Buckell interweaves Nashara’s story and the story of the characters from Crystal Rain. It is a welcome meeting and both answers and raises questions about the characters’ pasts. Buckell writes many of his characters in dialect, not unlike Mark Twain. While at first this was something of an adjustment, it proved to be give the novel an authentic quality and a unique feel. This dialectical dialogue flavored the novel in such away to give it a pleasurable cadence. For all the pirate-action, Buckell threw in some very moving passages, providing an emotionally balanced novel.
I should also point out the great cover by Todd Lockwood, who is doing a fantastic job on many of Tor’s recent releases. He manages to capture one of the scenes in the book with such great clarity and precision it proves difficult not to view the scene in any other way. However, the cover is just one small bit of the greater scene (picture?) that plays out in the book and Buckell shows he can be as inventive with his action scenes as he is with the feel and settings of his novels.
While a wholly enjoyable novel, at times I felt as if Ragamuffin was merely an episode in a much larger tale. Granted, Buckell has been creating a vast universe between this, his debut novel Crystal Rain and some of his short stories, but Ragamuffin felt as there could have been a bit more. If this is my only complaint; that I wanted to see more of Buckell’s imagined future, then it really isn’t a complaint, is it?
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford