Archenemies (2018) is the second installment in the popular YA trilogy RENEGADES, by Marissa Meyer. The story revolves around a team of superheroes who police Gatlon City against crime. In Gatlon, superhuman powers abound and their possessors have polarized int two antagonistic groups — The Renegades and The Anarchists. With names like that, you may have a difficult time knowing which are the good guys and which are the bad — and that’s kind of the point. Marissa Meyer has drawn up a plot where she means to ask questions about who can be trusted with extraordinary power. And can we trust any of them to be good? On its face, the story has possibilities, but it’s too ambitious for Meyer. Her execution comes off clunky and heavy-handed.
Diving in, you need to know the super hero character cast and their alter ego, and possibly their second (more diabolical) alter ego, as well. There’s a handy guide at the book’s opening. Principally, we have Nova and Adrian. Nova’s superhero alter ego is Insomnia. She can put people to sleep on contact, but she never sleeps herself. She is also Nightmare, who works for the Anarchists, who have planted Nova into The Renegades to try to bring them down from the inside. The other character in question is Adrian, the son of the city commissioner, and his superhero identity is Sketch. Anything he draws can materialize into a three-dimensional tool. Adrian is crazy about Nova, but that relationship is obviously doomed.
Archenemies is a book targeting a reader who is a blank slate. It means to uproot senses of the established “right” and “wrong” and turn them upside down, muddy the water and prick your sympathies for the “bad guys.” If you are a reader that also happens to be the ideal jury candidate — someone who can forget their own ideas and follow the narrative of facts and law, as set up by the legal defense or the prosecution, you might really enjoy this novel.
Me, I get hung up on the words and what I know them to mean, and how Meyer uses them, heavy handedly to make her points. I mean, Renegades? The establishment police unit is called The Renegades? They may as well be the Anarchist criminal gang. If we are going to make The Renegades so corrupted by power and authority that they are effectively a group of thugs, preying on the less powerful, then this is a different kind of story. They aren’t that. They are an imperfect group of super heroes doing their best to crime.
The Anarchists are largely composed of truly diabolical types. I mean, a puppeteer who entrances children and forces them to do his bidding? That’s really evil. And when there’s no question of guilt, are we really supposed to be sympathetic when he’s stripped of his superpower? I’m not.
I do want to be able to look at matters from an opposing point-of-view, but the author’s efforts to write a complex and multi-faceted story here were too overt, and they lack the imagination and lift necessary to carry a reader away with the story. I had to abandon Archenemies it before the half-way mark.