Be My Enemy

The second instalment in Ian McDonald's Infundibulum series for young adults is a riveting ride through time and space

Last year I reviewed Planesrunner, Northern Ireland author Ian McDonald’s first foray into the world of young adult literature. It was good. Now, Be My Enemy – the second book in the Infundibulum series – is out, and it is even better.

In Planesrunner, Everett Singh lost his father, discovered a map to the multi-verse on his computer (the 'Infundibulum') and was pursued by the wicked Charlotte Villiers to the steampunk and airship Earth of the Airish. At the end of the novel, backed into a corner, he made a desperate, blind-jump between universes – taking his allies, Anastasia and Sen Sixsymth, and their airship Everness with him.

Be My Enemy starts, inexplicably, back at one of Everett’s school football games. It takes a second to readjust to the Infundibulum mythology. Multiple universes mean multiple earths, and that means multiple iterations of one Everett Singh...

This Everett – dubbed Everett M for convenience – is already aware of the existence of the Panoply. Unfortunately, the cool, cruel Villiers is also aware of him – and just how useful he could be.

Clueless about these machinations, Everett-prime is still looking for a way to get his father back. If he is going to manage it, he has to work out a way to stay more than one step ahead of Villiers' jump-tracking cohorts. He’s pretty sure he knows a way, but nobody is going to like it.

Few authors out there are world-crafters on a par with McDonald. He builds tactile ecosystems out of words, vivid and viscous enough to touch. It is a talent that he has put to good use in Be My Enemy, introducing four different, distinct versions of Earth.

Everything from the history (in one the British Raj never rose) to the smell of the place (imagine no petrol fumes?) is laid out in the text. Yet McDonald’s narrative hand is light enough that none of it ever feels like an exposition dump.

The similarities and differences between the divergent Everetts we meet are just as carefully picked out. They are more alike than twins, yet it is still possible to tell them apart in the text.

Everett-M is colder than his alterego, more analytical, while Everett-Prime has been with the Everness long enough to start using their slang in his internal narrative. The third Everett, of course, has – well, I don’t want to spoil that.

Be My Enemy has a little less swash and buckle than the original installment and a bit more SF horror. It is still the best blend of intelligent writing and young adult fun on the market. The characters are likable, brave and not stupid in annoying ways. And with the high concept of the novel already in play from the previous installment, the non-Everett characters get more page time.

Sen, the white-haired, Tarot-reading Airish pilot and Everett’s slow-burn love-interest, even gets her own chapters. They are a joy to read, veering away from Everett’s thoughtful, considered prose into a breathless, lyrical rhythm that is perfect for her.

And McDonald conquers that most elusive of serial fiction challenges – giving the audience information while keeping them on tenterhooks for what happens next. There’s plenty of mystery left at the end of Be My Enemy, but without that irritating feeling that you’re playing a literary version of three-card monte.

Infidibulum is a book series that deserves to be better-known than it is. It is certainly one of the best young adult series in circulation at the moment. It can only get stranger from here – and it is pretty strange already.

Be My Enemy is out now, published by Pyr.