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
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