Humanity is free. Sort of. They are free to exist, but not really much else. The Benevolent Satrapy, some kind of unknown (to us) barely named alien menace rules their empire of 48 worlds. Humans live, but at the sufferance of the Satrapy.
The secretive alien Satraps tightly restrict the technological development of the species under their control. Entire worlds have been placed under interdiction, cut off from the rest of the universe (from tobiasbuckell.com)It is into this milieu that Tobias Buckell brings the reader into the worlds of Ragamuffin. We are told that Ragamuffins, the proud soldiers of Crystal Rain are space pirates. Pirates! We know that Ragamuffin has to be in some way related to Crystal Rain, though we are not entirely sure how at first. There are Ragamuffins who once had a proud tradition. The map on the endpapers shows that somewhere off to the left there are Teotl homeworlds. There is a genetically engineered and designed super human named Nashara who bears a striking resemblance to Pepper and John deBrun.
The story that Tobias Buckell tells in Ragamuffin is pure Space Opera, a rollicking space adventure where Nashara attempts to get home to one of the interdicted and cut-off human worlds while revealing that she contains a terrible weapon. Meanwhile other humans work for the Satrapy and struggle to keep the peace and do what they feel is best for humanity.
Midway through the novel Buckell confirms that this the world of Crystal Rain and everything that we knew or suspected of that novel is put into a vastly wider context and then changed completely.
My biggest complaint of Crystal Rain was that Buckell's debut took a long time to develop and moved slowly at the start (see review of Crystal Rain here). That issue was solved in Ragamuffin. Buckell throws us right in and while we do not know exactly the context of what is happening Ragamuffin moves a brisk pace even at the start. Buckell utilizes multiple viewpoints to give the reader a richer understanding of this alien controlled universe where humans are essentially a subjugated if nominally free species.
Oh, but it gets better. Ragamuffin is an exciting novel which overhauls the universe of Crystal Rain. It takes everything that was good about Crystal Rain (which was quite a bit), uses that as a starting point, and then improves upon it. You wanted to know more about what exactly the humans were escaping when they arrived on Nanagada? We get that in spades. Want more folks like Pepper who are larger than life and intensely dangerous? Nashara is a great start and there are more. Did you want Pepper himself? He returns. Did you want battles in space? Yep. A streamlined story packed with action, intrigue, and adventure? That's Ragamuffin.
If it is not clear by now I was very impressed by Ragamuffin. Somehow Buckell was able to improve on nearly every aspect of Crystal Rain. It's like this is William Goldman's "Good Parts Version". Buckell tightened the novel, kept only the essential parts, expanded on what we knew or suspected, set up a potential story for Sly Mongoose (though in what way I can only begin to guess), and kept everything moving along at a brisk pace. Simply put Ragamuffin is a better novel, and improved novel showing the author's growth as a writer.
Crystal Rain got me interested in the work of Tobias Buckell. Ragamuffin hooked me. This is fast paced science fiction with a big story contained in a slim volume.
So, when does the next one come out?
Reading copy provided courtesy of Tobias Buckell.