If you’re hoping for breathtaking space fights and loads of action, go find another book. Becky Chambers is much more interested in her characters and their reactions to events than in events themselves.
I love the way Chambers sets the atmosphere in her books, and that is almost enough for me to enjoy them. I’m also very character-driven and as I wrote above, so is she. I was therefore content, at first, to simply listen to what almost felt like a documentary on another culture. The Booktrack music is very mellow and it was all quite relaxing.
It doesn’t mean that nothing happens in this story. On the contrary, it begins with a catastrophe and the days that follow then goes forward five years, with the people in the system involved still going through the consequences of that catastrophe, while another – less massive but more personal – is in the making.
Each chapter is told in third person from the point of view of one of five main characters:
Isobel, an archivist in her late seventies, married to another woman, Tamsin;
Kip, a teenager, bored and smarter than he believes;
Sawyer, a “grounder” looking for a better life;
Eyas, a caretaker, i.e. someone whose job is to dispose of dead bodies in accordance with the Fleet’s rituals. Some of her scenes are the best in the book;
Tessa, a mother of two, whose oldest child, Aya, suffers from PTSD after witnessing the events from the prologue. The other child, Ky, is a rambunctious toddler, who made me laugh out loud more than once. Remember Ashby from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet? Tessa is his older sister.
Even though Record of a Spaceborn Few focuses mainly on human characters, “Exodans”, most of them born and raised in the Exodus Fleet, another very important character is Ghuh’loloa, a visiting Harmagian archivist, whose account of their observations provides thought-provoking perspective on humans.
This third book in the Wayfarers series can be read as a standalone. I’ll always recommend reading series in order, but if you really want to start with this one, you’ll have no problem understanding anything. As usual with Becky Chambers, gender identities and sexual orientations are diverse and not an issue that needs questioning and analysing. They just are.
I already loved Patricia Rodríguez’s narration in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, but she impressed me even more in this one, especially with the younger characters.
I was slightly worried when I first started listening, I was afraid I’d get bored with so little seemingly happening. In reality, however, Record of a Spaceborn Few is deceptively quiet. In hush tones, in between daily chores and kid shenanigans, tragedy looms. It brings growth too, and, for some, the hope of a better future, that can only be found in honouring the past, remembering where one comes from and the journey to the present, while not allowing that past, that journey to overwhelm and stifle.
I’ll be reviewing the fourth and final Wayfarers book, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, soon. Watch this space!