Be My Enemy is the sequel to last year’s Planesrunner, the book that launched Ian McDonald’s first ever YA series in spectacular fashion. I dearly love both of these novels and don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of them in any way, so if you haven’t read Planesrunner yet, stop reading this now and instead check out my review of that first novel, because there will be some spoilers for the first book below the cut. In other words: if you’re new to the Everness series, stop reading here until you’ve had the chance to devour Planesrunner. Gentle reader, you have been warned.
At the end of Planesrunner, Everett and the crew of the airship Everness won a significant victory, but not without paying a dear price for it. Against all odds, they managed to escape from Charlotte Villiers and the military might of her allies. More importantly, they were able to keep the powerful Infundibulum—a map of the billions of parallel worlds and universes—out of her hands. Still, at the start of Be My Enemy, the situation is far from ideal.
For one, Everett and company are in hiding after having taken a random jump to what turns out to be a completely frozen Earth. They’re doing all they can to stay warm, conserve power and find a way to jump back to a more familiar world. Meanwhile, Everett is also desperately looking for a way to find his father, who was unwillingly transported to a completely random universe at the end of Planesrunner. The odds of tracking him down among all the myriad planes of existence are negligible, but Everett is applying all his skills to making the attempt.
While Everett and the crew of the Everness are regrouping, Charlotte Villiers and the Order are hatching a brand new plan to capture the Infundibulum. The title of the novel offers a hint of how this is going to work: they’re actually recruiting an alter of Everett, meaning Everett from one of the other worlds in the Panoply. In this world, Earth was contacted by an alien civilization called the Thrynn Sentiency in the second half of the 20th century. Using Thrynn technology, Villiers and co. turn this world’s Everett into a killing machine (the real Everett refers to him as “RoboEverett” at one point) but despite all the physical modifications, he at least starts out being the same person inside, which creates some interesting tensions along the way.
And that, in a nutshell, is the main setup of this great sequel to Planesrunner, which in many ways continues in a straight line from the opening volume’s starting point. Everett is more and more becoming a part of the Everness crew, and grows closer and closer to the lovely and mysterious Sen Sixsmyth. Meanwhile, the villains are still doing all they can to track him down. In essence, the hunt that started in the first book continues in this sequel.
The main new ingredients are “RoboEverett” on the one hand, and two previously unseen Panoply worlds on the other. One of these is the Thrynn Sentiency one mentioned before, and the other is the mysterious, quarantined “E1” world we heard of in the first book. In Be My Enemy, we find out the horrific reason why E1 is off-limits to the rest of the Panoply.
If I’m to be completely honest, Be My Enemy didn’t blow me away as completely as Planesrunner did. That’s partly because it’s, well, a sequel. A sequel to an outstanding novel, granted, but still, some familiarity sets in. The surprise factor wears off, ever so slightly. You only get one chance to meet wonderful characters like Sen Sixsmyth and the rest of the Everness crew for the first time.
I also wasn’t completely thrilled with some of the new twists Ian McDonald throws in, especially the whole doppelganger story line (which, as you’d guess from the title, is central to Be My Enemy) and also the the reason for the E1 quarantine. I’m trying to be as vague as possible here to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say that it felt a bit too recognizable for me. Then again, these books are aimed at a YA audience, and depending on their familiarity with SF, it’s quite likely that YA readers wouldn’t have those same reservations.
Even with those few quibbles, Be My Enemy is still a great novel. Just revisiting the Airish and reading the palari chatter is worth the price of admission. Everett and Sen continue to grow closer, and you just can’t help but root for them. The story once again moves along at a very rapid pace, making this another fun, fast read. There are times when these books just sparkle with innovation and adventure and humor. Ian McDonald also sneaks in several sly references and allusions again, like having Everett ironically realize at one point that he’s going through a “TV Tropes moment.” (Also, catch the Portishead quote—from one of my favorite tracks no less—in Chapter 15.) And, if cover art’s your thing, Be My Enemy is once again graced by a brilliant, eye-catching illustration by John Picacio—which, apparently, almost turned out completely differently!
If you loved Planesrunner as much as I did, you won’t need my recommendation to pick up this sequel. Even if I had a few minor issues with it, the book is still a blast from start to finish. As far as I’m concerned, Ian McDonald could write another dozen or so of these Everness novels, and I’d happily read them all. As Sen says, early on in Be My Enemy: “Let the bona temps roll.”
This review was originally published on Tor.com on September 6th, 2012.
Thanks, Stefan. The “first novel” in a series effect is hard to overcome.
Agreed – even for a genius like McDonald. I’m still excited about reading the rest of the series!
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