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BOOK REVIEW: Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

REVIEW SUMMARY: McDonald proves the concept of his world of the Infundibulum has legs, and provides some intriguing new ideas amid an entertaining adventure.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fleeing Charlotte Villers and seeking a way to find and rescue his father, Everett and his friends aboard airship Everness discover why a particular world is off limits.

PROS: Lots of ideas thrown out and explored; good development of main characters.
CONS: The establishment of Everett’s double as nemesis feels extremely forced.
BOTTOM LINE: Malevolent Nanotech. More world hopping. A solidly entertaining second volume to the series.

In Planesrunner, the first novel in Ian McDonald’s YA series about Everett Singh, we were introduced to the world of the Infundibulum. Everett’s father, with help from Everett himself, unlocked inter-world travel, a breakthrough powerful and potent enough that people will go to great lengths to possess the technology. Everett’s journeys takes him to a parallel world of carbon fiber technology and enormous airships. At the end of the first book, Everett’s father has been cast to somewhere in the multiverse, and Everett is determined to find and save him, even as the forces arrayed against him are in hot pursuit.  Now, those forces, led by Charlotte Villiers, have a new plan for capturing Everett and his key to the mulltiverse. They intend to use the one person who can anticipate and counter Everett’s moves and actions: himself…

Be My Enemy is the sequel to Planesrunner. (See my SF Signal review of Planesrunner here) With the Everness on the run, Everett and his new friends, Sen, Captain Anastasia and the rest of the crew, are forced to face the challenges and difficulties in hopping between worlds.  Meanwhile, Everett is struggling to find a way to track down his father and reunite with him while Charlotte Villers enlists the help of an Alternate Everett to anticipate the decisions Everett might make.  This Alternate Everett has the genes of the Everett we know, but his life has taken a very different turn with the death of his father, and the fact that an alien intelligence has contacted the Earth in his timeline and set up shop on the Moon. The idea of alters is explored throughout the book (and in sometimes surprising ways). We even get to see a genderswapped alter for Charlotte Villers, Charles. Charlotte and Charles set Alter-Everett the task of infiltrating the original Everett’s life as a hook to getting to Everett himself.

With all of these ideas, concepts and worldbuilding, McDonald, in terms of his core characters, provides us with meaty development and growth. The relationship between Everett and Sen deepens and grows, as does his relationship with Captain Anastasia. We also get to learn more about Charlotte as a person rather than a rock star blonde antagonist. There are tantalizing hints, again, about what she is really up to, but sequences and scenes with Alter-Everett definitely changed and firmed up my opinions and conceptions of the character in a multifaceted way.

The main thing that didn’t work for me is how easily Everett’s alter is set up and falls into the role of being Everett’s enemy (hence the title), and his dislike, if not outright hatred of Everett. It came across to me much more like the author needed and wanted the alter Everett to play this role, rather than the natural development of the character.  Other things the Alter Everett does, however, do come across as definitely in character, lending to my confusion.

Although well written, I didn’t find myself liking Be My Enemy with the white-hot heat of the first novel in the series. Sophomore books too often fall into that trap, and although McDonald does try to get new readers up to speed, you really should read Planesunner first before tackling Be My Enemy.  That said, I was more than satisfied with the book and anyone, young adult or otherwise, who has read the first book will find much to love here, and will likely be as eager as I for the next volume in the series.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!

1 Comment on BOOK REVIEW: Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

  1. Nice review–I agree about the critiques of alternate Everett. I actually found him to be a fairly sympathetic character.

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