The Satrapy are a collective that rule the worlds and overlook everything, watching for forbidden technology and destroying it when it surfaces. With Earth, New Anagada and Chimson cut off from this collective hundreds of years earlier, the remains of humanity live where they can, told they are free although more often than not they are restricted in many things.
The Hongguo are a human faction working for the Satrap to ensure that piracy and illegal technology are controlled and restricted in the human population. For many years they have kept an eye on the Ragamuffin, the remaining island people from Earth and the other cut off planets. Now the Hongguo have new orders from their Satrap masters, ones that will force a big change on the human population.
The Ragamuffin are huddled on the outskirts of the wormhole network, making home near the cut-off New Anagada wormhole. When the Hongguo threat becomes apparent, and the wormhole to New Anagada re-opens, they face both old and new enemies and must make decisions that will affect not just them, but all of humanity.
I read Crystal Rain last year and loved the way that Tobias Buckell bought a unique flavour to science fiction. The Caribbean influences made for an interesting story and very strong characters. So, it was with great anticipation that I picked up Ragamuffin. My main question was whether or not Buckell could bring the uniqueness and story telling skills to space opera, and if he could how would it all fit together. I was very pleased to find not only an interesting story, but one with great characters, an interesting history and more than enough action to satisfy anybody.
Ragamuffin is split into three sections, initially following Nashara as she escapes the planet she is stuck on and tries to find her way as close to New Anagada as possible. Nashara's story then goes on to entwine with the other section, life on new Anagada after the events of Crystal Rain and the subsequent re-opening of the wormhole and also the merging of the two plots for the final act. All of these are well integrated as a whole, although I am glad that I've read Crystal Rain to fully appreciate the situation on New Anagada.
Nashara is a very unique character, a clone of one of the old founders of Chimson that is designed with forbidden technology to do very serious damage to her enemies - we find out very early on that her fellow clones died unleashing hell on their captors so Nashara could escape. She is a strong female lead with serious attitude - a character that is easy and fun to read with an underlying history that slowly comes to the surface. We've also got another interesting character in Estudo, a Hongguo who has some rather diverse views that don't entirely match up with the rest of the Hongguo. He's interesting and multi-layered and gives a viewpoint that, as a reader, is ideal. We've also got our old friends from Crystal Rain in the shape of John deBrun and, of course, Pepper. I think that reading the first book would help greatly in reading these characters, although a good job is made to give a summarised back-story without interfering with the plot. Pepper is a great character and one of the most enjoyable to read - I'm always turning the page when he's about to see what he'll do next!
As a storyteller, Tobias Buckell is very good. He's got a neat and focused style that doesn't get bogged down in the more mundane points of world building, but equally he creates a believable and hugely enjoyable universe. This is one of those things that can set a book apart from others, and Ragamuffin certainly hits the high notes in terms of action and adventure. The only criticism I have about Ragamuffin is how quickly events happen from around the halfway point onwards. It feels slightly rushed and the avenues that we are taken down not explored as fully as I'd hoped, but this doesn't have any serious effect on my opinion about the book, it's just a little niggle.
I'm seriously looking forward to Sly Mongoose, the third novel in the sequence, and sincerely hope that any future novels can keep pace with the precedent that has been set here. Highly recommended!