Between Liam and the starliner carrying his sister lie baffling timestreams, inscrutable enemies, and vast stretches of cold, empty space.
Humans have departed Mars to colonize another planet. As Last Day on Mars (2017) ended, readers learned—but Liam didn’t—that Phoebe, Liam’s best friend and only fellow traveler in their small spacecraft (not counting their parents, injured and in stasis, and an intelligent, panda-faced bot), is a disguised alien. A horrifying prelude shows that Xela—Phoebe’s real name—came to Mars after a “hurtling wave of atomic fire” seared her whole planet, Telos, in six minutes. Of 6 billion Telphons, only 238 survived—and they want revenge on humans, who caused the cataclysm. When will Liam learn Xela’s identity? Where does her loyalty lie? She hides her lavender, black-bristled skin in order to resemble a white, human girl; Liam’s multiracial heritage, mentioned in Mars, is unmentioned here. Arcs of emotional tension braid through outer-space flying and fighting scenes, various aliens, jolts of puzzle-mystery time travel, and science/philosophy (“Now and then are constraints of three-dimensional beings”). Liam’s loneliness in “the deep black and silence of space” is offset by adventure: “It’s been fun, you know, when it hasn’t been terrifying.” Reveals are plentiful, including a closing one to beckon readers forward.
Thrills, violence, time/space questions, and some contemplation about colonization make for action on the thoughtful side. (Science fiction. 10-13)