If you've been following this blog for a while, you are aware that I love Ian McDonald. To this day, River of Gods, Brasyl, and The Dervish House continue to rank among my favorite science fiction reads of all time. Hence, you can imagine my disappointment when it was announced that McDonald's next project would be aimed at the YA market.
Having said that, even though I gave Planesrunner a shot with a certain measure of reticence, the author's first YA work impressed me. Although the plot did not show as much depth and the storylines were not as multilayered and convoluted as is usually his wont, I found McDonald's Planesrunner to be an intelligent, entertaining, and fast-paced novel.
The sequel, Be My enemy, follows in the same vein. The book doesn't move the plot forward as much as the first installment did, but this second volume is another fun and entertaining novel which contains all the key ingredients that made Planesrunner such a good read!
Here's the blurb:
Everett Singh has escaped with the Infundibulum from the clutches of Charlotte Villiers and the Order, but at a terrible price. His father is missing, banished to one of the billions of parallel universes of the Panoply of All World, and Everett and the crew of the airship Everness have taken a wild, random Heisenberg Jump to a random parallel plane. Everett is smart and resourceful, and, from a frozen earth far beyond the Plenitude, he plans to rescue his family. But the villainous Charlotte Villiers is one step ahead of him.
The action traverses the frozen wastes of iceball earth; to Earth 4 (like ours, except that the alien Thryn Sentiency occupied the moon in 1964); to the dead London of the forbidden plane of Earth 1, where the emnants of humanity battle a terrifying nanotechnology run wild—and Everett faces terrible choices of morality and power. But Everett has the love and support of Sen, Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, and the rest of the crew of Everness—as he learns that the deadliest enemy isn't the Order or the world-devouring nanotech Nahn—it's yourself.
It's no secret that the multiverse theory is an old science fiction trope. Some would say that parallel universes and parallel Earths have been done ad nauseam. That may be, but I found McDonald's approach, with such concepts as the Plenitude of Known Worlds and the Heisenberg Gates, to be relatively fresh. In Be My Enemy, the author explores a number of other realities. Given how Planesrunner ended, this second volume begins in a world trapped in ice and snow. In addition, the narrative takes readers to Earth 4, a world almost identical to our own but for mankind making contact with aliens in 1964. We also visit Earth 1, a forbidden plane of existence under quarantine where humanity has been brought on the brink of extinction by nanotechnology.
Though very fluid, McDonald's prose is evocative and every world and locale comes alive as you read along. I particularly enjoyed how arresting the imagery created by the author for the almost-dead world of Earth 1 turned out to be. The scenes taking place aboard the Everness are also special.
The coolest aspect of Be My Enemy remains McDonald's use of Everett's double from another plane of existence. That was absolutely brilliant and it opened up so many possibilities. Another Everett who knows virtually everything his counterpart does, but enhanced with alien Thryn technology, this teenager is forced by Charlotte Villiers to go after Everett Singh and the secrets he carries. But what the Plenipotentiaries failed to grasp is that this other Everett also has plans of his own.
Once more, the characterization is top notch. McDonald came up with an endearing and disparate cast of protagonists for Planesrunner and most of them are back in this second installment. Everett Singh must share the spotlight with his double from Earth 4 and there is a nice balance between the two POVs. The crew of the airship Everness makes for a compelling supporting cast, and it was a pleasure to see Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, the mysterious Sen, the God-fearing Mr.Sharkey, and the grumbling Mchynlyth again.
As was the case with its predecessor, the pace is fast and crisp throughout Be My Enemy. So much so that you go through this slim (269 pages) book in no time. As I mentioned earlier, this volume focuses more on the confrontation between Everett Singh and Everett M than anything else, which means that the storylines don't progress as much as I would have thought. Still, the way the author brought Be My Enemy to a close opens the door for plenty of awesome things to come, in a number of different realities. Lou Anders told me that volume 3 should, if all goes well, see the light in the winter of 2014.
All in all, Be My Enemy may not be akin to the mind-blowing science fiction yarns Ian McDonald is renowned for. And yet, like Planesrunner, it's a fun, entertaining, more and more complex work featuring an engaging cast of characters. If like me, you have a bias against YA books, McDonald's Everness series should win you over. Writing for a younger audience imbues McDonald's writing with a certain exuberance that I found intoxicating.
Give these books a shot! Planesrunner and Be My Enemy won't disappoint!