Almost two and a half years ago, only a few months after its publication, I picked up Renegades hoping it would be another Lunar Chronicles. I left that book feeling somewhat disappointed; neither hating it nor loving it, but rather just sort of wishing it had given me something more. I’ve had its sequels, Archenemies and Supernova, on my bookshelf for a little while now, wanting to read them but fearing further disappointment. Now that I’ve finished Archenemies, my prognosis is thus: it improved on a few of the things that were lacking in Renegades, and yet it’s not enough for me to fall in love with it. But more on that below. First things first, your warning: Spoilers abound.
Superheroes versus Villains
I want to start off by saying that I’m not usually a huge fan of the superhero genre in general, as it tends to divide good and bad into boxes too neat and tidy to properly reflect on the real world. If it’s your cup of tea, then no judgements from me; you may find yourself really loving Meyer’s work.
That said, Archenemies can’t seem to make up its mind on whether it wants to have good and bad guys or if it wants morally gray. On the one hand, both Nova and Adrian, the main characters, find themselves playing both sides. Nova, as Insomnia, doesn’t just pretend to make friends as she infiltrates Renegade headquarters; she actually does find herself agreeing with their policies and way of life from time to time. But she’s Nightmare at her core, an Anarchist trying to pull down the Renegade regime. And Adrian, as Sketch, is a law-abiding Renegade just trying to do some good, while using his other alter-ego, Sentinel, to break Renegade codes in order to do more good without all of the red tape.
It makes sense, in a way, for the main characters to be developed enough that they can’t quite be classified as good or bad, superhero or villain. Yet other characters don’t get quite that same treatment. Frostbite and her team continue to act “villainous” without any repercussions, only there to serve as a justification for Nova’s hatred and unease of the Renegades while the rest of the Renegades seem like goody-two-shoes and the Anarchist methods, despite Nova’s point of view to humanize them, still come off as villainous deeds.
I think the hardest thing for me to swallow was with the introduction of Agent N. Every single Renegade at that meeting was excited, intrigued, and all-around eager to start using this irreversible power-stealer. Everyone, that is, except for Adrian and Nova. I have trouble believing that not one other person in that room would at least be a little uneasy, or consider it of questionable morality. In their minds, a villain is a villain, and cannot be rehabilitated to use their powers for good, yet in reality, a good half of the people in that room would likely push against Agent N’s use at least until a possible antidote could be created.
Commitment to the Cause
Nova was always committed to the Anarchists, even in Renegades, but in Archenemies, the stakes feel far realer as she finds herself being influenced by Renegade beliefs. Callum’s prodigy power and Adrian’s own authenticity shows Nova a brighter world that doesn’t necessarily follow the Anarchists’ end goal. When she voices her disapproval of Agent N, it apparently makes her a target, since apparently only villains can be against Agent N, but in truth, Nova is unwittingly trying to change Renegade mindsets, to save it rather than destroy it. It’s an internal conflict that really fleshes out her character.
Surprisingly, one of the more enjoyable plot elements was the relationship between Adrian and Nova. Primarily, this is because it serves as fuel for Nova’s internal conflict. She can’t fall in love with Adrian for real if she plans on using him for the Anarchists plans, and yet what does it matter if the feelings are real if they allow her to get closer to him, and, by extension, her end goals?
I also found it to be a very realistic display of teenager romance. It’s all awkward and clumsy, uncertain that the other person likes them even when it’s obvious to practically everyone else. It’s cringy, but it’s supposed to be, especially given their circumstances.
Another thing I found intriguing was the parallels between the Sentinel and Nightmare. Nightmare was presumed dead in the aftermath of Renegades, and towards the beginning of Archenemies, the Sentinel is thrown into the river and likewise presumed dead. Nova, of course, found her alias’s death to be useful, because then Adrian and others could no longer follow breadcrumbs that might lead to her exposure, and all she needed was the right timing to bring Nightmare back to life.
The Sentinel, on the other hand, was a bit of a nuisance and a danger for Adrian. It was a massive secret he was keeping from his friends and family, and when the “Sentinel” was presumed dead, it gave him an out to let the matter lie. Yet it couldn’t last, and the timing of the Sentinel’s reappearance said a lot about his character. He has something to prove. That he also didn’t go as rule-abiding Sketch also said something about his character; to have done so would likely have given him the opportunity to truly stop Frostbite’s team from killing Hawthorne, but because he felt more powerful as Sentinel, he and Hawthorne both paid the price.
Presumptions of Guilt
I will say that Adrian being blamed for Hawthorne’s death should give him some perspective on people making assumptions on guilt. Yet, when Max is gravely injured in the fight between Nova and Frostbite’s team, she tries to save him until Adrian arrives. It’ll be interesting to see, when Max wakes up, what he will say to Adrian about Nightmare trying to save him, and how that will change Adrian’s perspective on Nightmare. The book ends with Nova promising to help Adrian find Nightmare’s real identity, and I found that a little disappointing.
The problem, too, is that after Danna followed Nova into Ace Anarchy’s lair, she is now trapped in her butterfly form. As soon as she is returned to her human form, she has everything she needs to condemn Nova. What I’m predicting will happen is that eventually Danna will return to human form, reveal Nova’s identity, and offset a series of events that will start with Adrian being heartbroken and lashing out but end with the two of them working together to create a much better Renegade system, and a much better world.
The truth of the matter is that Nova’s alliance to the Anarchists feels far tighter than it has any right to be. Perhaps she bought into Ace’s spiel as a kid about laying the blame for her family’s death on the Renegades for not showing up, but she’s grown up now, and she’s incredibly smart. She notes with disdain how people rely too heavily on the superheroes to save them, rather than saving themselves, and grows angry that people rely too heavily on prodigy healers, preventing the growth and development of pharmaceutical medicines. And yet, she continues to blame Captain Chromium and the rest of the Council for not saving her family? Especially when it was a time of terror, and they were probably running themselves ragged trying to save other people? Why doesn’t she blame the gang that actually killed her family? They’re the ones who employed a man willing to kill a one-year-old.
It all seems too incredulous to believe, and considering we already laid the foundations for Nova betraying the Anarchists when she killed Ingrid in Renegades, I’d be very surprised if she doesn’t eventually realize how damaging the Anarchist regime is going to be, and, towards the end of the book, help Adrian and his friends stop some big conflict from destroying literally everyone.
I plan on starting Supernova right away, so we’ll see if my predictions have any merit. But, overall, I found the continued enforcement of good vs evil and Nova’s own tenuous connection to the “bad” side to really taint what made the book almost work: Nova struggling to keep Anarchist beliefs in her head even while her heart tried to pull her in the direction of the “good.”