My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the sequel to The Outside, a book I rated five stars a couple of years ago. This series takes place in a far future where humanity has been conquered by their own quantum supercomputers, which have made themselves into the human race's rulers and gods. This is complicated by the existence of the Outside, an extradimensional source of Lovecraftian-style energy and physics-twisting cosmic horror that the first book's protagonist, Yasira Shien, invites into our universe.
This book deals with the fallout and consequences of that decision. It's concentrated on the planet Jai and its Chaos Zone, ground zero for the Outside invasion, where strange plants grow, monsters walk, the normal laws of physics are turned inside out, and the fifth of the planet and its inhabitants under the Outside's sway are struggling to survive. In a way, it's refreshing to have the stakes of this book be relatively contained and small-scale. Although I'm sure Yasira and her friends' confrontation with the Gods are coming. But apparently that will wait till the next book.
In the meantime, we have Yasira trying to cope with what happened and found a revolution. Yasira is on the autism spectrum, and the fallout from the first book (and the Outside energy that remains within her, that she can draw upon and use) damaged her brain, turning her into a "plural"--the current term for what was once called multiple personality/disassociative identity disorder. This plays an important part of the plot and climax. Yasira's plurality allows her to carry out the revolution that frees Jai and its people from the Gods' control (although the last chapter shows that the Gods' enemy, the Keres, is on their way to Jai, setting up what will presumably be the third book).
The only reason I haven't rated this book five stars instead of four is because it has multiple point of view characters, and I'm not fond of that style of narrative. That's a personal quirk. In this case, however, multiple POVs are necessary to the story, and the new characters we spend time with are well drawn and interesting, particularly Elu Ariehmu. Elu is the follower of Akavi Averis, the renegade "angel" (cyborg soldiers and enforcers of the Gods) cast out in the first book. Elu has a rather heartbreaking character arc in this book, and I hope he gets a happy ending in the next.
We also get some welcome and fascinating backstory for this universe, via a visit to Old Earth to see a museum that depicts the Morlock War, a failed rebellion hundreds of years before. This book is not necessarily the tale of a second Morlock War (at least not yet), but it does show how a community fundamentally fragmented and altered can adjust, come together and cooperate to fight anew...and maybe win, at least for a little while. It's a layered, complex tale that gives the reader a great deal to think about. I only hope next time around we get to see the Gods themselves.