What do you do for a follow-up when your heroine has already saved the universe?
You invent a new crisis, of course. After the events of Unraveling (2012), Janelle Tenner is dealing with the wreckage left behind and mourning the departure of her boyfriend, Ben, to the universe he came from. But she can’t enjoy even this relative stability, since Taylor Barclay, the annoying Interverse Agency operative from the last book, is back, seeking her help. A human-trafficking ring is snatching innocents from across the multiverse—including her best friend—and Ben is suspected of involvement. If she doesn’t help Barclay, all of Ben’s loved ones, herself among them, will be killed by the IA in just a few days. This allows the book to use the same countdown graphic that was so effective in the first, but, ghastly as human trafficking and state-sponsored torture are, they just don’t have the same consuming nature as the end of the universe. Moreover, in keeping Ben offstage for much of the book, Norris, perhaps unwittingly, sets up an intriguing chemistry between Janelle and Barclay that makes the Janelle-Ben romance a whole lot less compelling. Gigantic narrative flaws notwithstanding, Janelle remains a likable, kick-ass heroine, and the conclusion sets up an ongoing situation that promises smoother execution in the future.
Whether readers will tolerate the contrivances of this book along the way is another matter. (Science fiction/thriller/romance. 14 & up)