Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the sequel to Diving into the Wreck and City of Ruins, two excellent novels featuring a memorable character who specializes in exploring derelict space vessels and who simply goes by the name “Boss.” The first two novels did an excellent job combining intriguing SF world-building with interesting characters and high intensity plots, so my hopes for Boneyards were extremely high. Unfortunately, it’s by far the weakest entry in the series, and while it still holds enough interest for readers who have been following the story so far, I sincerely hope that the series will regain its energy in future volumes.
(Warning: the rest of this review will include some details about the plots of the first two novels in the series, so if you haven’t read them yet, you may want to check out my reviews of those books instead. My review of Diving into the Wreck can be found here at Fantasy Literature, and my review of City of Ruins is here at Tor.com. This second review is actually quoted on the back cover of Boneyards – which has to be one of the most exciting things to see for any book reviewer.)
Boneyards tells two mostly separate stories that connect late in the novel, just like City of Ruins did. The first one of these is the familiar first person present tense narration by Boss, who is busy exploring Sector Base W with Coop, the Fleet captain who first appeared in City of Ruins. Coop is stranded in Boss’ time — 5,000 years into his future — due to a malfunction of his ship’s anacapa drive, which is the technology the Enterran Empire has been chasing after in its ongoing conflict with the Nine Planet Alliance. Sector Base W was only in the planning stages during Coop’s time, but by the time of these novels it has become a ruin, emphasizing the shocking time difference Coop and his crew have had to adjust to. Despite the millennia, Coop believes that the Fleet is still somewhere out there. He wants to track it down and rejoin it, which is why he and Boss are trying to find more information about its current whereabouts in the remains of this base.
The second story focuses on Squishy, an employee and friend of Boss who played a significant role in the first novel. Squishy has her own reasons to try and hamper the Enterran Empire’s research into the anacapa drive, and in this second story line you follow her current mission to do so as well as its aftermath. Every other chapter in the “Squishy” sections offers a flashback into her past, explaining some of her background leading up to the start of Diving into the Wreck as well as some of what happened to her since the last time we saw her.
One of the biggest issues with Boneyards is its structure. Alternating a few chapters of Boss and Coop with a few chapters of Squishy isn’t a problem in itself (although it takes much too long before the two stories finally connect) but having every other chapter in the Squishy sections turn into a flashback breaks up the flow of the story too much. Yes, it’s nice to find out more about Squishy’s background — including the origin of that odd nickname! — but the number of interruptions combined with the already very short chapters (usually just three or four pages each) means that you never get the chance to settle into the story before you’re yanked into a different timeline.
The sections focusing on Boss are, as usual, great. She’s still an odd but fascinating character, someone I’d love to read many more novels about. It’s especially fun to see her now she’s finally met someone who’s a match for her in Coop. The Boss plot is great, and even though the tension of the exploration scenes from the earlier novels is mostly missing in Boneyards, these sections still deliver almost everything you’ve come to expect from this series.
Unfortunately the other half of the novel is taken up by Squishy’s sections. The flashbacks delve into her past and add a good amount of depth to her as a character, but despite all of this she’s still not as interesting as Boss. The plot involving her former husband feels both unnecessary and borderline melodramatic. Combine this with the annoying flashback structure, and about half of Boneyards ended up being something I had to make myself read just to get to the next section featuring Boss. Maybe my expectations were too high based on the first two novels in this series, but the Squishy sections of this novel were simply disappointing.
By the time the novel concludes — unfortunately in a way that feels very rushed — everything’s at least set up for an exciting continuation in the next novel, which leads me to think that Boneyards may just end up being a weaker blip in an otherwise strong series. So, despite my disappointment with this latest novel, I’m still eager to see how the story will continue. Here’s to hoping that this otherwise excellent series will soon regain its mojo.