Picking up the story not long after the events of book one, Jonah and Sam are still in Australia after having taken the Southern Corner from Granger. The Changsphere, originally offered as a safe haven for the Uploaded, has become much more than that. Additional processing power has helped them to grow and thrive and recover lost memories, and this extra power is causing ordinary avatars to migrate from the Metasphere to the Changsphere, people like Jonah, who is spending a lot of time in there getting to know his father.
But the Uploaded have become restless. No longer content in their virtual world they have begun using the extra power to attack ordinary avatars, infecting them and taking over their personalities in order to be reborn in the real world.
The dead are rising.
Now Jonah, Sam, Axel and the others face a new battle. They are fighting to take control of the Western Corner, housed in the old subway lines under New York City, and keep the Metasphere safe from Granger, while wondering if their success is creating more dangerous alternative, the Changsphere, where millions of Uploaded roam freely, attacking users for their virtual avatars and their real bodies.
These are great books; on the outside they're fast-paced action/adventure stories but get deeper into them and they reveal themselves to be deceptively complex, posing difficult and often unanswerable questions about identity, purpose, right and wrong, life and death and much more, and as such they shouldn't be treated as simply 'boys-own' stories - they are much more than that.
Because we've already met the characters, the relentless pace of book one takes a little breather here, and allows us time to explore those characters in a bit more depth, especially Jonah Delacroix, our erstwhile hero. Jonah finds himself questioning his own motives time and again, stuck in moral and ethical dilemmas of, largely, his own making and wondering whether he is really doing the right thing, something we all struggle with from time to time but for young adults it really changes the world from a place of black and whites to a vast palette of greys that are not easily resolved.
In this respect it's interesting to see Jonah trying to weigh up the pros and cons of the various factions involved in the Metawars - the Millennials, the Guardians, Mr. Chang and so on - and trying mentally to see if it's possible to achieve the impossible balance of pleasing everybody. It's also heartening to see him spend time amongst the fallout of the conflict, and realise that his lot in life is not as bad as he thinks - at this point we see Jonah start do some real growing up.
In fact a lot of this book is about actions and consequences. It's not so much that their are good guys and bad guys - the world is much more complicated than that although clearly we're all routing for jonah to come through the whole thing unscathed - but the arguments are laid out in such a way that there are no easy answers and that's what lifts these books above the morass of YA novels currently out there. It's a shame that more schools don't encourage this kind of reading in classes and get kids to debate the issues raised about internet access, virtual worlds, data storage, corporatisation, activism vs terrorism and so on.
But let's not lose site of the fact that once again this is a frenetic, fast and fun read, full of great action and thrills and tinged with just enough emotion to make us care. More questions are raised, more corners of the Metasphere are still to be taken, and personally I can't wait for next May and Metawars 3.0 - Battle of the Immortal.
Jeff Norton has a website.