Lee Hogan,
(Roc, 2003)

Enemies is the second book of the Belarusian series in which an awful lot has already happened. As such, it deserves some credit for the brief introduction to the Russian-settled world of Belarus, the brutal war with the alien Enemies and changes in human society that leads into the adventurous politics of the main novel.

A political action thriller in a science-fiction world, Enemies moves around the brief assignment of Alliance diplomat Ambassador Argus Fabricus to the now primitive world of Belarus. Belarus is critical to the Allies, and not just for their altruistic motives. Belarus is one of the few worlds to survive an attack by the terrifying alien Enemies, and the only world to now have contact with them. Through the Belarusian royal family, and especially the masked woman Serina Kurakin-Scriabin, Argus hopes to gain an understanding of the Enemies before new wars destroy the stability of both societies. His job is complicated by needing to establish ties with the royal family, who view the deformed Serina as a curse and a shame.

Enemies is not exactly hard science fiction, but its roots are rather firmly set in the world of physical realities. That makes the inclusion of the mythological Baba Yaga about as expected as spotting her chicken-legged house next to the gas station. The high-tech level of the society seems to offer an explanation for everything, but the Russian crone goddess stalks through book, merrily unexplained. How necessary she is to the larger story remains to be seen. Personally, I was so pleased to see a non-Greek, non- Christian bit of divine intervention that I was almost able to overlook the many questions she left in her cackling wake. It's such an effective boggler that it seems sure to have a grand explanation, and the mystery of Baba Yaga's presence and involvement is one of the hooks that pulled me into the tale.

Aside from the Baba Yaga, Enemies is populated by accessible, sympathetic characters. If some politicians or soldiers seem slanted towards too much purity, it's justified by the rather idyllic political system that dominates the galactic Union. That earnest, altruistic government contrasts well with the more realistic, struggling world of Belarus. Among the Belarusians, only the sheltered, ostracized Serina is as idealistic and daring as the Starmen, the Union representatives. The real villains of the tale are all deeply black, from the historic psychotic John to the religious fanatic Ivan. But the real evils of the world are carefully hidden in the shadows of respectable, even likeable people trying to survive in a world more dangerous than the Alliance knows. The importance of the least examined characters in the world's history, and the relevance of small details to the larger tale mean a reader has to keep their attention focused on what sometimes might pass a standard political thriller.

Enemies is a less self-sufficient story than Belarus. It ends with a blatant lead-in to a new story, and only a few questions half solved. But I certainly won't mind revisiting Hogan's cold world, and hope the next transport leaves soon.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 13 September 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.