Most of you are well aware of where I stand when it comes to Young Adults works. There's nothing wrong with them, but they usually don't appeal to me much. Hence, you can understand my disappointment when, after reading the incredible The Dervish House, I discovered that Ian McDonald was now working on a YA novel. River of Gods, Brasyl, and The Dervish House figure among the best science fiction books I've read since creating the Hotlist, so I was a bit crestfallen by the idea that his next work would be aimed at a younger audience.
And yet, as is the case with Neil Gaiman, regardless of the audience he's writing for, Ian McDonald remains Ian McDonald. Though the plot may not show as much depth and the storylines may not be as multilayered and convoluted, I should have known that McDonald couldn't possibly dumb the tale down as to make it a travesty or a parody of his previous science fiction works. So no, it's not the mind-blowing doorstopper scifi yarn that River of Gods was. Still, Planesrunner is an intelligent, entertaining, and fast-paced book that should satisfy McDonald's fans, both old and new!
Here's the blurb:
There is not one you. There are many yous. There is not one world. There are many worlds. Ours is one among billions of parallel earths.
When Everett Singh’s scientist father is kidnapped from the streets of London, he leaves young Everett a mysterious app on his computer. Suddenly, this teenager has become the owner of the most valuable object in the multiverse—the Infundibulum—the map of all the parallel earths, and there are dark forces in the Ten Known Worlds who will stop at nothing to get it. They’ve got power, authority, the might of ten planets—some of them more technologically advanced than our Earth—at their fingertips. He’s got wits, intelligence, and a knack for Indian cooking.
To keep the Infundibulum safe, Everett must trick his way through the Heisenberg Gate that his dad helped build and go on the run in a parallel Earth. But to rescue his dad from Charlotte Villiers and the sinister Order, this Planesrunner’s going to need friends. Friends like Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, her adopted daughter, Sen, and the crew of the airship Everness.
Can they rescue Everett’s father and get the Infundibulum to safety? The game is afoot!
The multiverse theory is an old trope of the science fiction genre. Parallel universes, parallel Earths; this is nothing new. Yet McDonald approaches it in a way that makes it feel fresh. I loved the idea of the Plenitude of Known Worlds and the Heisenberg Gate. The author keeps his cards pretty close to his chest in this opening volume, but there are a few tantalizing revelations which makes you want to learn a lot more about those other realities. And many of those secrets hint at the fact that this series might resound with much more depth than meets the eye. Only time will tell. . .
The characterization is particularly well-done. McDonald came up with an endearing, if disparate, cast of protagonists for Planesrunner. Although it is Everett Singh's tale from beginning to end, he shares the spotlight with a compelling group of men and women, chief among them the crew of the airship Everness. Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, the enigmatic Sen, the God-fearing Mr.Sharkey, and the mysterious and fearsome Charlotte Villiers all add another dimension to the story. The author also created a new language for the Airish community, and there is a Palari dictionary at the end of the book.
The pace is fast and crisp, making Planesrunner a page-turner. I went through the entire novel in only two sittings. True, I was lying in a hammock about forty feet from the Caribbean Sea in Caye Caulker, Belize, sipping on rum punch as I read. It was the perfect setting to lose track of time and get lost in a novel, I know. But I would never have been able to finish this one so fast if the story had not captured my imagination from the start. Weighing in at only 274 pages in hardcover, Planesrunner is rather short. Having said that, I never felt short-changed and the tale ends exactly at the right time. A longer book would simply have meant info dumps and filler material. Hence, Planesrunner is as long as it needs to be. Not too fond of cliffhanger endings, but there was no way to get around that with this one.
All in all, Planesrunner is an interesting introduction to a series that promises to be fun and entertaining, featuring an engaging cast of characters, and may well turn out to be more complex than what one could expect from a YA work. I'm curious to see where Ian McDonald will take the story in the second installment.