Record of a Spaceborn Few is as different from its predecessors as A Closed and Common Orbit was from the first book. Each book in the Wayfarers series to date has been unique, pretty much a standalone, and each one is an utterly compelling story with a lot of heart. I'm going to say right up front that this may be my least favorite of the three- I'm still sorting that out- and even so it's one of the best science fiction books I've ever read. They're that good.
Record of a Spaceborn Few is an apt title- this is the story of the Exodus Fleet, the remnants of humanity who left a dying world to find their place in the stars. They live aboard mammoth generation ships, called homesteaders, and unlike many generation ship stories they're not going anywhere. They've already arrived. They are permanent nomads in space, with no world to call their own. And for the most part they're okay with that. Some leave for colony worlds or Central space, where they'll live amongst the other races of the Galactic Commons, but most humans from the Fleet remain with the Fleet throughout their lives. This book is a slice of life look at their lives and customs, much as The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet was a slice of life account of the Wayfarer and its crew.
There are several viewpoints at play here. Tessa is the sister of Capt. Ashby from the first book, and she is more or less content with her lot, raising two children aboard the Asteria. Isabel is an Archivist- an historian basically- and from whose viewpoint we learn much of the workings of the Fleet from a cultural perspective. Sawyer is a young man who comes to the Fleet looking for something- he doesn't know what, but he's fleeing a planetside existence that held nothing for him. Kip is a kid who wants nothing more than to leave the Fleet when he's able to, and Eyas rounds out the cast as a Caretaker- one of those distinguished individuals who care for the dead of the Fleet. Everything is recycled in the Fleet- including humans.
There is very little action in this story- okay, none, really. No blasters are fired, no intergalactic conflict. This is all about characterization. These characters come alive, they have hopes, dreams and fears that we experience right along with them. You can read this book two ways- as a straightforward tale of humanity in the future, finding its way in a cosmos where they are not alone, and it's interesting that way, but you can also see a ton of relevance to current events and common questions. What is the point of existence? If all needs are taken care of, how do you choose a profession? What happens to societies when the young leave- do they stagnate?
If this sounds pretty boring, it might be to certain readers. Not to disparage anyone- it's just, again, not an action packed tale at all. Events build on each other, we get to know these people, and while there is a hint of intrigue- and a shocking moment- this is a sedate tale. For my money it's incredibly readable- I mean I wanted to pick this up every time I had a second- but just a fair warning. Don't expect a lot to actually happen. And yet things do happen, in their own way- people grow and change, and there are some truly emotional beats. I could read about this universe all day.
The viewpoint characters mostly have their own story to tell, but events do converge as time goes on, bringing several of them together. It feels organic, if maybe a little forced at times, but will be very familiar to readers of the first two books. If there's one thing I take away from this, it's that this universe- the Galactic Commons- is such a wonderfully vivid, well realized place. There is so much potential for stories here, and in some ways it reminds me of the universe that Martha Wells is building in her Murderbot books- both have a similar feel, a lived in quality almost, that makes them so easy to read.
To close, I would just say that anyone who wants their assumptions challenged, who wants to read about a diverse and expansive universe, where humanity are relative newcomers but finding their way- and who wants to think, and wonder- should get these. Reading these books is like a slow dance of ideas. I can't recommend enough. I was moved and absolutely loved this book. My only complaint is that I can't live in this world.