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Ragamuffin    by Tobias S. Buckell order for
by Tobias S. Buckell
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tobias S. Buckell blasted his way into the SF firmament with his debut work, Crystal Rain. It's set on New Anegada, settled by people whose ancestors came through a wormhole, and where two main cultures (with Caribbean and Aztec flavors) are at war. His second novel, Ragamuffin, can easily be read as a stand-alone. While set in the same universe, it has no links to Crystal Rain until late in the book.

It's a universe ruled by an alien Satrapy, where humans are controlled and subjugated. Though they are technically emancipated, human worlds have been effectively isolated by the closing of wormholes in their vicinity. Other humans exist precariously on alien planets and habitats circling them. We first meet the story's heroine, Nashara, on Astragalai, where those humans not kept as pets by the alien Gahe are forced to live on reservations. Passing through, Nashara executes a mission for the League of Human Affairs, in return for onward passage. Though her mission succeeds, the reward is not forthcoming, as the League anticipated her martyrdom to their cause and never intended to pay up.

But Nashara has a broader mission. She carries technology that will allow her to send versions of herself to infiltrate Satrapic lamina data streams, and is determined to reach New Anegada or at least make contact with Ragamuffins, a human military arm now considered pirates. However now, not only are the League after her but also the Hongguo, humans mindwashed by the Satrapy and enrolled as enforcers to suppress or destroy any technological developments by their fellows. After a run-in with the Hongguo on Yomi, Nashara seeks refuge on a Ragamuffin ship only to find that it's very badly damaged with few survivors and is itself being pursued. It seems the Satrapy has decided to eliminate the Ragamuffin fleet and downsize humankind.

There's a lot more going on, including a Hongguo captain, Etsudo, who still thinks for himself and has doubts about his mandate, and a very determined girl, Kara, who manages to get herself and her brother out of a habitat targeted for destruction. There's also a chance to spend more time with Crystal Rain characters, and plenty of surprises on the journey. Though the action is mostly off planet this time (space battles and fighting in varied spaceships and habitats), it's just as fast paced and thrilling as in the first book. I read Ragamuffin nonstop and was only sorry when I closed it that I'll have to wait again to spend more time in this splendid universe.

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