I know that you shouldn't want a book based on its cover, so thankfully, once I saw that it was a book by Gareth Powell it was one that I knew I had to read. The cover though is absolutely stunning and definitely catches the eye which is exactly what you want.
Set seventy-five years in the future, the human race has been cast out of a dying Earth to wonder the stars in a vast fleet of arks. The good news is that you do get to hear how the Earth started to die and humanities role in it.
For the most part, the story follows Eryn, who responds to a mysterious alien distress call when her sister goes missing. Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is a horror beyond what any of the crew could imagine. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who might just hold the key to humanity’s survival.
The ships have AI's built-in which can then fragment off sections to smaller scout vessels almost like children - they're their own entity, just formed from an AI with far greater capacity. What's interesting is that the scout ship AI's make their own host bodies, some to a humorous effect like a hammerhead shark walking around, or in the case of Ocelot's (Eryn's ship) where he presents himself as a portly man. In between a few chapters the focus changes from Eryn's point of view to the Ocelot's just to add another dynamic and shows how differently they can think compared to humans whilst having an unbreakable loyalty to their human "owner".
The action throughout is intermittent but plentiful. Even in the quieter moments, everything is chugging along at a set pace because the threat is always there and growing. There's a lot of dialogue between characters or even to the AI's but nothing that you'd class as pure filler - it's relevant and even the bits that don't push the story forward give you a bit more of a look at the current state of the human race, answering some questions that you want to know.
One part that some people might not like is that Frank, the legendary recluse who might be the key to saving the fate of humanity. Is he? Realistically, he didn't do much other than giving Eryn the opportunity to speak to one of the "angels". Other than that, he was just there once they found him, offering some moral support where needed but also annoyed at his recluse life being interrupted. For me though, I don't mind this. There's too much in books of "this person can save everyone" and not enough finding them and then realising that no that isn't really the case. I like the "I don't know" kind of response and although it might seem like a pointless journey to have got to that point it does add a bit of realism to an otherwise pure sci-fi romp. He's not entirely useless though as his presence alone on the Arks allows Eryn to get permission to do what she needs to do. I liked Frank, but can definitely see people questioning the point - I just hope that people can view it as I did in that him not knowing the answers himself is actually pretty realistic, despite what everyone is told beforehand.
Overall though, the story is a gripping and thrilling sci-fi novel that kept up a solid pace throughout, that even threw some humour in there for good measure. Some of the descriptions of the entity they find are graphic and really add to the horror of what the characters are seeing and are up against. The reanimating of the dead in a warped way just to mimic humans it absorbs is horrific, but the ability to mimic the AI and ships is something else and definitely not something that you want chasing you through space! Stars and Bones is another good book by Gareth Powell and it makes me look forward to what he has in store next.