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by Lee Hogan
Roc, $6.99, 416pp
Published: March 2003

Well, that's it for Emily Devenport's books for me, until the new one comes out later this month, because I've worked my way through all ten of them and I've had an absolute blast. This is a sequel to her other book as Lee Hogan, 'Belarus', and it underlines just how ambitious this 'Belarus' series was. I say series, by the way, because there's clearly more to tell, even though the two existing books were published in 2002 and 2003 and the author chose to then go on a hiatus that lasted for a decade and a half.

It would be difficult to summarise 'Belarus' in a mere paragraph, which does kind of emphasise why you should read that first. If you have, you'll know that Belarus is an alien planet designed through terraforming to be the new Russia. You'll also know that the massive vision of Andrei Mironenko, first Tsar, was plagued by the presence of sadistic aliens living, hidden, inside the planet, and this book is named for them.

We begin 'Enemies' a thousand years on, which is easily enough time for the world of Belarus to have descended into suspicion and superstition. It's a highly religious place, isolationist and panicked, and that's what the Union finds when it rediscovers the planet. The Republic is long gone and its vast network of planets with it. The Union which has replaced it is reaching out to find what's left and the Starmen are viewed with fear and mistrust.

To be fair, the Union does have another reason to restore official relations with Belarus and, while I won't tell you what it is, I will say that it has to do with the Enemies who continue to be a threat to the human colonists of their planet. However, times are changing, and Ayat-Ko, for reasons that are known only to her, has taken the role of a servant in a noble house, where she 'raises' Serena Kurakin-Scriabin, arguably our lead character, the only one who can move things forward.

She's a fascinating lead, more complex and less obvious than the colonising tsar of the last book, Andrei Mironenko. She's looked up to as a noble but down to as a wearer of the Mark of the Last Resort, a physical genetic flaw inherited from the chemicals that Mironenko used to attack the Enemies so many centuries earlier. She's at once a figure of power and a lowest caste member who survives because of everyone else's power over here. She develops gloriously, as does the book.

Even though we're a thousand years into the future, from the perspective of the last book, enough time to blur history and fetishise it, there are quite a few connections through characters. The most obvious is Grigory, the blind ESA agent who had the foresight to leave an avatar of himself in a jewel he kept in one of his eyes, which meant that he could be brought back to play a very important role in this sequel.

While it might seem like a cheat to simply resurrect someone, even when it's simpatico with internal consistency, it's a real boon to this book. Think of how little we know of a thousand years ago, on the other side of some dark ages, and then imagine a character from then brought back with the memories and firsthand knowledge of that time. We would learn much and what we learn could change much. On Belarus, where dynasties have fallen but the power of the Tsar and the threat of the Enemies is constant, that's only enhanced.

As with 'Belarus', there are many stories here, both in character and genre. Serena's may be the most important but there are other characters here who are given complete story arcs of their own which could have been their own novels. As to genre, this is still grand idea science fiction, with a side of space opera, another of period drama and a third of serial killer horror. All are wrapped up in multiple levels of politics and explored with a nod to folklore. After all, another obvious continuing character is Baba Yaga, the ancient witch of the Russias who sees everything but chimes in rarely.

As with any Emily Devenport novel, it seems, there's much more here than can easily be listed. Her left turns are now legends in my head and there are a few here too, but there are also sections that aren't given the development they seem to warrant. I wonder if this is because the author aimed for them to grow in a third book that never happened. Assuming so, they don't cause a major problem here, and the book wraps up appropriately enough, but they do leave a lot of unanswered questions and tantalising hints.

I wanted more, even after four hundred pages (eight hundred if we count the first book, as we probably should). Perhaps more importantly, I wanted more than I usually do when finishing one of Devenport's novels. One of the side effects of her wild left turns is that we find ourselves thoroughly immersed in the worlds she creates, not just physically but culturally, and that was never so true as with her 'Belarus' novels. Needless to say, I've never been to this fictional world, but I feel like I've invested in its future and I'm waiting to see how that turns out.

For now, I guess we have to call the 'series' done, with nothing new in the past decade and a half. At least we can be thankful that Emily Devenport is back as a writer, with a new series in motion, begun by 'Medusa Uploaded', a magnificent collection of wild left turns that introduced me to her work. I can't remember looking forward to a book as much as I have its sequel, due later this month, 'Medusa in the Graveyard'. And, after that, we have to be patient.

And, of course, we can go to CoKoCon over the Labor Day weekend with a list of questions, because she's going to be a very worthy Local Author Guest of Honor. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles by Emily Devenport click here.

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