Review – Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

Posted: July 12, 2014 in Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Tags: , ,

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The third instalment in Ian McDonald’s Everness series, Empress of the Sun pushes the notion of YA literature to its boundaries. I’ve only read two young adult series before: the ubiquitous Harry Potter novels, devoured whilst completing my Masters, and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, enjoyed whilst recovering from a broken leg. Ian McDonald’s series deserves to be mentioned alongside those other brilliant YA, coming-of-age type adventures. However, there is a certain darkness and a certain budding adulthood that is maybe lacking in either of those mentioned.

Both Rowling and Pullman’s novels feature struggle and hardship, loss and the battle of good against evil. But, where McDonald diverges is in his ability to make grey those hard choices, to muddy the moral waters of his young protagonist. He also does this against a background of youth as it exists today, particularly in London. The obsession with phones, computers, fashion and football all mingled in with teenage angst that even made this ageing beard hark back to those awkward times.

The Everness series follows Everett Singh as he attempts to track down his father, a scientist kidnapped by a shadowy organisation and taken to a parallel world. Everett is, himself, a bit of a maths wizard and discovers that his father has given him the ‘infundibulum’ – a map to understand and conjure portals to anywhere I’m the multitude of parallel Earths. The series is one long, fantastic thesis on brilliant world building as Everett discovers more worlds, more alien Earths and more strange and intriguing characters – some alternatives to those he knows on his own Earth. It’s on these adventures that he becomes a crew member on an airship (think Zeppelin) as he jumps around the multiverse, battling those who took his father, a version of himself cruelly made into a cyborg, an unrelenting swarm of nanobots intent on total sublimation along with his own angst and fears.

Empress of the Sun does two things brilliantly. It shows the development of Everett as he loses his innocence and idealism and takes on tough, horrible choices. It shows the change from boy into teenager and the struggle it can be. But, importantly, it places Everett firmly in a world (or worlds) where nothing is black or white. The other thing it does is provide a thrilling adventure in a stunningly creative setting where dinosaurs are super evolved beings with millions of years in advanced technology. Everett and the crew are being hunted, their backs to the wall, but still needing to save the known worlds and stay one step ahead of their enemies.

Ian McDonald manages to weave a number of themes and stories brilliantly into his series. His science is believable and deftly handled, his characters (especially the teens) crackle with life, his multiverse is fascinating and the plot is driven with intrigue, emotion and conflict. The Everness books are wonderfully and beautifully written, epitomising what YA literature should be; hugely entertaining yet thoughtful and intelligent.

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