Ian McDonald’s Planesrunner, first book in the YA trilogy Everness, was exactly the type of book I wish I had to read as a fourteen year-old. Parallel worlds, airship battles, shadowy villains, and a strong sense of adventure, McDonald told an entertaining story that clipped along, setting the stage for additional story. Everett Singh transported to an unknown world in pursuit of his lost father upon the conclusion, the follow up novel Be My Enemy (2012) sees the search continue even as the evil Villiers set the most horrifying person on Everett’s tale: an alter ego version of Everett himself, but with certain physical enhancements…
Be My Enemy thus opens on a confusing scene. Everett describing strange mechanical abilities in his arms and legs and the dark power they can unleash, the storyline would appear to have jumped the rails: where is the Everret from Planesrunner? Parallel worlds being what they are, however, it isn’t long before the ‘real’ Everett, alongside the spunky Sen in the airship Everness, are once again center stage. Stranded on a random parallel Earth after having jumped worlds to escape Charlotte Dilliers at the end of Planesrunner, Everett and Sen and the rest of he crew must do everything in their power to find a way back to the Earths they are familiar with, all the while the alter-Everett creeps closer to finding the real Everett and bringing him to the Villiers.
With its two Everetts, one hinting dark and the other light, Be My Enemy would seem open itself to a kind of dichotomy like the movie Spider-Man 3: a simplistic, dual-personality presentation intended to explore the evils of having power, or perhaps a dichotomy like that of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. McDonald does not answer which in By My Enemy. (It’s clear the third and final book in the trilogy, will.) And for that I can’t help but wonder if the introduction of alter-Everett may have been better handled at the end of Planesrunner—a kind of dark foreshadowing of what’s to come. Had McDonald done as such, I think the overall trilogy would be more contiguous. Just a small quibble. As it stands, it nevertheless adds an interesting dynamic to the overall storyline that really helps push pace and tension.
With the stage-setting out of the way in Planesrunner, Be My Enemy is free to move as it likes, and McDonald ensures the novel is agile. While moving through its own sinuous curve of action scenes and breathers, More importantly for me, the book reads more ‘original’, and by that I mean the airship battles of Planesrunner sometimes felt too stock, too cookie-cutter. There were no such scenes in Be My Enemy. There is a scene wherein nanotech poses a serious threat, and McDonald resolves it through the ideas of his own story rather than those which have appeared in other books, which makes for more satisfying reading.
In the end, I am sad and delighted—sad that my fourteen year-old self didn’t have the Everness books to read, but delighted I will be able to recommend them to my own children once they are old enough, as Be My Enemy continues the parallel world romp that Planesrunner started by exploring new worlds and possibilities, and upping the personal ante with an alter-Everett. Great fun.