Review of ‘World of Water’ by James Lovegrove

World of Water is the second book in the Dev Harmer Missions series, from English author James Lovegrove. In it we follow ISS agent Dev Harmer as he turns up on another new world with some sort of mostly unknown problem to solve, and most things stacked against him. In other words, exactly where you want to see a sass-talking, ass-kicking intelligence operative. Picking up where World of Fire left off with excellent pacing, great action sequences, and a protagonist that hits all the right action buttons, World of Water continues to bring the spy thriller soundly into the realm of science fiction. You can also read my review of the first book in this series, the aforementioned World of Fire here.

The amazing sequel to World of Fire. Dev Harmer has landed in a new body on a new planet. He has gills and fins and a chronic malfunction in his genes. With only 72 hours to bring the settlers and natives of a colonised world to peace before his temporary body expires, murder and corruption are the least of his worries.

With the indigenous ‘mer-folk’ on the seabed and the human settlers in floating cities on the ocean surface cannibalising the mer-tech in an attempt to force their way into the eco-system, Harmer is in a race against the clock to ensure his mission doesn’t end in abject disaster, a Polis+ coup or genocide.

I’ve got to hand it to Lovegrove, he’s really hit on the magic formula to being a prolific science fiction writer: Never even think of writing a trilogy or long-running series. As all of these epics get progressively bogged down in 3 years, 4 years, between books with fans getting more and more angry about anything they think of as a delay keeping them from their precious next instalment, Lovegrove has basically settled into the realm of purely episodic fiction. Between the Godpunk ‘Age of X’ series, where each book is an entirely different theme, with entirely different characters, plot styles and settings and now the Dev Harmer Missions, he can pretty much write whatever strikes his fancy and never have to worry about an ever-growing canon. Even as he keeps the individual novels tied together conceptually in a really sticky way, each one can be a completely independent project.

I find the general concept for these ‘World of’ books to be really engaging. Humanity has spread far and wide across the galaxy, but there’s still definitely a sense of the vastness of space. It seems like humans don’t have star-trek style super-fast warp engines, though since we’re pretty much planet-bound in every book, that may not be strictly true. In any event, things are far enough apart that when there’s trouble brewing, they can just put together a good local body in a vat, and zap the agent’s brain over to it, and he’s ready to go, all knowledge and skills intact. As weird as it sounds, sending a consciousness across light years to inhabit a specially grown body actually makes the books feel a lot more realistic.

It’s always bothered me how many worlds in Star Trek or other large-scale space settings just happen to be pretty much safely and comfortably inhabited by regular bog-standard humans. I can buy there being enough planets with breathable atmospheres, but there are whole swaths of our ‘perfect for humans since we evolved here’ Earth where people can’t comfortably thrive, so out in the vastness of space that should be even more so. Which is why I really like this body-transfer system. It allows Lovegrove to give us a planet which is basically completely ocean. Yes the regular humans live here, but they have floating settlements that are actually pretty fragile, and it’s the modified half-local body that Harmer is provided with that really allows him to interact with the population. The freedom to move the setting to worlds that aren’t just ‘Earth but warmer’ and ‘Earth but underground’ and ‘Earth but trees are blue and skies are red’ really helps make the universe feel like a real one.

I’m also increasingly enamoured with Harmer as a protagonist. He’s got a past that we’re slowly unravelling and he’s very engaging and realistic. He’s skilled because he’s been trained, but he’s not super-human, he can still get beat up pretty good. He’s got a bit of a Deadpool insouciance about him, that means he’s pretty much wise-cracking in the face of all opposition, but he does actually believe in his cause and is trying to actually resolve issues as best he can. I enjoy characters that are ‘good’ but don’t feel constrained to do everything by the book. It can be dangerous to turn them into ‘bad-boy’ vigilante types which are also pretty overdone. He’s a good guy who wants to get the job done with a minimum of death and destruction but he’s not above a sucker punch or an ambush. He feels like he’s just a guy. A guy with, as they say, a particular set of skills, but without that aspect of his character overwhelming any other parts of his personality.

I definitely look forward to the third novel with this character, World of Air, and am taking bets on whether or not we’ll see a World of Earth after that, and I hope that maybe we’ll get to see a little more about what’s actually going on back with the government who is dispatching this guy. It feels like they’re probably at least a little sketchy, and keeping them in the background is definitely keeping me engaged, but after too long, it will start to feel too shadowy and just be a trope. Dev definitely needs to end up on a core world some time where he can get some face-time with the ISS. Whichever way Lovegrove slices it though, I know I’ll be in for an action-packed ride with lots of great dialogue. Awesome.

Dan received an Advanced Review Copy of this novel from Rebellion/Solaris via NetGalley

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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