Ragamuffin is the sequel to Buckell’s previous novel Crystal Rain though that might not be apparent in the beginning, especially to anyone who hasn’t read Cyrstal Rain, a fact that might cause a problem when the reader hits the middle of the book and the narrative shifts from space to the previous novel’s Nagagada (or New Anagada if you prefer). The plot initially focuses on Nashara a badass ladystyles sent from her homeworld Chimson to generally kick ass and deliver a secret weapon that will hopefully help liberate the masses of oppressed humans from non-human/alien overlords.
The novel started a bit slow, which I think was intentional, since as a reader I shared in Nashara’s sence of being trapped on a world she didn’t want to be in. Once she hits open space though, gets a chance to really open up and kick the aforementioned ass, things really shine. In a particularly brilliant action scene Nashara uses a minigun in a rather unorthodox, though fairly awesome, manner and later, in the novel’s final climatic battle, Nashara shines once again with brilliant use of her secret weapon. Buckell introduces other new interesting aspects like the mind-controlling Satraps and certain revelations regarding the Teotl, both of which may or may not be related to one another.
The previously mentioned shift in narrative came right as I was starting to really enjoy Nashara so the shift back to Pepper, John and company really killed the pace for me a bit. While I like the characters here I can’t help but feel this was the weaker section of the book. The Jerome(John’s Son)/Xipilli element is what really brought things down for me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t badly written, in fact Xipilli was actually quite a tragic character and what he was trying to do in the novel was actually quite noble but both it felt rather extraneous in terms of the novels actual plot and story development. It did lead to an important moment for Jerome towards the end of the novel and did reinforce the overarching theme portraying to what levels aliens have caused humans to sink to but regardless detracted from what I felt was the more interesting and better written parts of the book.
Regardless this wasn’t enough to stop me reading and the last 75 to 100 pages were more than enough to make up for any chaff along the way. In many ways the final scenes reminded a bit of the space battle from Return of the Jedi: a disparate alliance fighting an implaccable enemy in an against all odds scenario; thrilling stuff. Overall, given the greater emphasis on action and overall fantastic world-building I’d rank Ragamuffin slightly above it’s predecessor. Highly recommanded title for all sci-fi fans who enjoy a well-developed, colorful world that is at the same time familiar and refreshingly original populated by unique and, for the most part, universally appealing characters.