Book review

Review: record of a spaceborn few – Becky Chambers

359 pages| Hodder & Stoughton| Science Fiction/ SFF/ Space Opera

 

The digest: the final Wayfarers book does not disappoint. With the same high-quality worldbuilding and character development as previous novels, fans of the previous books cannot afford to miss out on record of a spaceborn few.

 

My review for Wayfarers #1, the long way to a small angry planet, can be found here.

My review for Wayfarers #2, a closed and common orbit, can be found here.

 

From the book’s Goodreads page:

“From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?”

If you have read my Five Favourite Books of 2018, you will know that I absolutely adore the Wayfarers book series, and its conclusion did nothing to change that. This novel mostly takes place on one of the human-inhabited Exodan ships and revolves around a handful of characters (we haven’t seen before) who are working through their own problems. There is hardly any action, and if you don’t like character-driven narratives then this is not for you.

NB: it isn’t essential for you to have read the previous two books in the series to appreciate this one, but I think you will have a much better time if you read them in publication order.

Because I did enjoy it so much, I’ll start with the negatives:

  • There were a few too many grammatically ‘meh’ parts for me to not mention them. Previous books didn’t really have these which is probably why I noticed them here. Another revision would have probably cleaned these up, and they weren’t major, just a bit of a nuisance.
  • I struggled a little to keep up with the different points of view during for the first few hours reading the novel, there’s a bit too much going on and they aren’t even remotely connected at the beginning.
  • There were a few too many infodumps. Now, the previous books weren’t amazing in this respect either, but the sheer amount of information just somehow written out for the reader was too much in parts.
    • These latter two points are interesting because they weren’t as prevalent in the first two Wayfarers books at all. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Chambers changed editor halfway through getting this one released, but there was definitely a bit of… murkiness that we haven’t seen in the series before.

The good:

  • The worldbuilding is excellent, and we learn more about the history and mechanics of the Exodan fleet here than in previous books. Whilst some of this information is presented to us via infodumps, a lot of it is naturally weaved into the story. (The Exodans are basically humans who left Earth many generations ago and now live in space.)
  • Most of the characters are people that I could easily identify with, and their problems are basically just extensions of what those that we have in modernity. Loneliness, lack of identity, trying to find purpose in life, making and losing friends, the importance of family, finding you calling etc, grief etc. Chambers writes about them with such sincerity that I couldn’t help but tear up once or twice.
    • I was a little disappointed that we spent so much of our time with humans, to be honest, but I think that speaks more of Chambers’ ability to create likeable alien characters in previous books than anything else. This is definitely a human-oriented novel first and foremost.
  • The focus on communities and inter-species negotiation is incredibly interesting. The author doesn’t mess about here, we learn about the nuances of the Exodan fleet from their market bartering system to their funerary rituals. I honestly can’t recall a book which has such a varied and developed sense of community, and it made me happy to read about it for once. No massive wars, no serial killers, no godlike war machines – just a day at the market trying to get a job.
  • There isn’t much of an adventurous plot. Why is that a good thing? Somehow, Chambers has transformed me from someone with no interest in reading Science Fiction at all to someone now heavily invested in a series of characters – humans, Martians, weird water blob things, big feathered bird-lizard being, AIs etc. Without a real plot. Her characters are outstanding and it is enough to just follow them about their daily existence – working, cooking, playing with the kids.
    • Even though not much really happens for a decent length novel, there are still sections and chapters full of excitement. Scavengers hunting through an old ship? Check. Trying out new and exciting ‘adult’ activities? Check. A quick jaunt into space at max speed just for the hell of it? Check.
  • The final few chapters were really… satisfying. I don’t always want a book with a happy ending, and I would argue that this one is a bitter-sweet conclusion to the series at best, but Chambers manages to tie up a fair few threads in a satisfying closing section. You can’t really ask for more of that.
  • The book’s tempo (the speed at which events happen or characters… do things) is nice and leisurely. Of course, there are moments of excitement and fear and for these sections, the author alters her writing style to fit the more abrupt goings on. But generally, reading record of a spaceborn few will neither bore you with monotony nor lose you with its speed.

 

 

4.5/5. The conclusion to the Wayfarers trilogy is excellent, and I do mean excellent. Like the previous two books, I would recommend them to anyone who enjoys character-driven stories, science fiction (where science isn’t really the focus), and slice of life stories. record of a spaceborn few is almost literary in its presentation and content. I cannot wait to see what Chambers produces in her next publication (which I believe to be a series of short novellas, the first of which being released later on in 2019).

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