Archenemies

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Renegades. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Archenemies was written by Marissa Meyer and first published in 2018. It is a science fiction novel which tells the continuing story of Nova – a double-agent trying to bring down an established group of superheroes from the inside. The novel forms the second part of the Renegades Trilogy and follows on directly from where Renegades (2017) left off, therefore I would recommend reading the novels in sequence to fully appreciate what’s going on.

Following her battle against the Detonator, Nova Artino has finally secured a position of respect within the ranks of the Renegades. Her secret alter ego – the villain Nightmare – is believed to be dead and she has finally been granted permission to work in the archives of the Renegades headquarters. As soon as she can get her hands on Ace Anarchy’s helmet – the device that he needs to focus his telekinetic powers – she will be able to deliver victory into the hands of the Anarchists.

Adrian Everhart has also finally found a moment of peace. When the Sentinel is believed to have been killed in battle, he is finally granted the opportunity to put his secret vigilante persona to rest and bring his life back to normal. Although he is still desperate to find out who killed his mother, he has now exhausted all of his leads. Perhaps it is time to focus on his team and budding feelings for Nova.

Yet everything changes when the Renegades unveil a new secret weapon. All patrols will soon be equipped with vial of Agent N – a fast-acting drug that has the ability to permanently strip a Prodigy of their powers. Although Nova is horrified at the thought of how this could be abused, she also realises that it could be a way to finally defeat the Renegades forever. Yet, she knows that she must proceed with caution. One of her team mates – Monarch – seems to be growing increasingly suspicious of her…

While Archenemies can be a lot of fun and I certainly did not feel bored while reading it, I can’t deny that it has a whole host of problems. If you read my review of Renegades, you’re unfortunately in for a bit of repetition here as – to my disappointment – I found that very little had actually changed. Worse still, Archenemies also had a whole new set of problems in addition to these.

Firstly, as you probably already know, I am an avid comic book reader and always have been. I’ve always been a sucker for classic legends and what are superhero stories if not modern-day myths? Due to this, I am always on the look out for novels about superheros which aren’t just comic book adaptions.

While Archenemies certain fits the bill, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Every element about superhero stories that was lovingly mocked in The Incredibles can be found in here. Campy code-names that vaguely tie in with their powers, brightly coloured costumes, capes, domino masks and tragic backstories are all certainly present.

The plot also takes recognisable elements from recent film adaptations. You have the historic riots, superhero violence and classic well-marketed team of older heroes from Watchmen. You have the battle between superhero legislation and freedom of Civil War. You have the concept of weaponizing a mutant who can nullify other mutants’ powers from X-Men: The Last Stand. You even have the superhero who wishes for a world with no more mutants, a plot thread that comic book fans will certain recognise from Marvel’s House of M arc. While this obviously won’t be an issue for readers who aren’t really into comic books, fans of the genre might find it all just a bit too cheesy and over familiar.

While this wasn’t a huge problem in its self, my bigger issues were with the structure of the story. Archenemies suffers badly from middle novel syndrome, in that it barely has a distinct plot of its own. It’s merely the bridge between the first and third instalment of this trilogy, serving as a way to move all of the players into position in preparation for the climax. On the whole, the plot was mostly filler. The narrative is still exposition heavy and I feel that there is a limit to how many times we have to be reminded of Nova and Adrian’s origins stories. Even though a few significant things do happen within the last couple of chapters, the climax of the story was nowhere near as dramatic as I was expecting. Everything that it tried to do to raise the stakes seemed like it could be fixed rather easily in the next novel.

Archenemies also spends a lot of time focusing on the relationship between Adrian and Nova this time around. While it was clear that they did share feelings for each other from their near-kiss in Renegades, it was always in the background and never really felt as though that was that important to the story. This time around, Nova is actively ordered by Ace Anarchy to seduce him. This includes a rather awkward scene in which Queen Bee teaches Nova how to seduce a man with well timed laughter and random skin-on-skin contact. Oh dear…

While the relationship between Adrian and Nova is not problematic in itself, it just felt a little off to me. This wasn’t something that I really noticed in the last book, but now that it’s all very prominent in the story I realised that the two of them don’t really make a great couple. They rarely talk about anything with each other. Other than a few debates about the ethics of Agent N, they never really share a natural conversation about themselves outside of discussing superpowers. Their awkwardness around each other was cute but did not really make them seem like a great match. Well, that and the fact that they were both continuously lying to each other for the entire novel.

Yet the characters are all still rather likeable. While Archenemies did not focus as much on the side characters as Renegades did, every protagonist in the story felt solid. Meyer excels in writing well-rounded characters that do feel like real people. A good example of this are Adrian’s dads. While they are fantastic and loving parents at home, they are also two of the most famous superheroes of all time. Because of this, their staunch Renegade politics can at times be a bit questionable.

The introduction of Agent N to the plot also added a new dimension of ethical debate, akin to real world discussions concerning capital punishment. While there is no question that some Prodigies use their powers for evil and that Agent N would perhaps be the only solution to this problem, the power imbalance and lack of restrictions on its use are deeply troubling. While it was a bit scary how many of the protagonists were okay with this, Nova’s concerns seem fully justified and I’m interested to see where Meyer will take this in the next novel.

Despite my problems with their relationship, Nova and Adrian remain very likeable characters and I could certainly relate with both of them in this story. Yet, I still have problems with some of Nova’s backstory. Now that she’s seen how underfunded and stretched the Renegades are first hand, as well as the destruction that Ace Anarchy caused, I’m not sure why she can still support him so vehemently. Despite the fact that the Renegades can be morally questionable, it’s very clear that the Anarchists are true villains. Queen Bee, in particular, is very happy to announce this fact to anyone who will listen. Yet, despite this, the only character that I had a real issue with this time around was Monarch. While I did rather like her in Renegades, her suspicion of Nova in Archenemies seems to come out of nowhere. Seriously, how does she come to the conclusion that she is a traitor purely due to her issue with the regulation of Agent N?

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so it’s probably a good time for me to end this review. While I certainly did not hate Archenemies, I can’t deny that I also had a lot of problems with it. Still, I did find it to be a fun read with a lot of memorable characters. With one book left to go, I will certainly be reading on to find out how things pan out for Nova and Adrian in the end.

Archenemies can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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