Title: The Antithesis: Book 2α (Two Alpha)
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: 14 August 2011
Publisher: 1889 Labs
Genre: genre mash-up of mythology and science fiction
Source: ebook received from author
My Rating: 7/10
Note: this review contains mild spoilers for Book 1 in the series.
In September I reviewed The Antithesis, an indie novel that put a sci fi spin on the war between heaven and hell. In this version there are angels and demons, but they’re not fantasy creatures or forces of good and evil; they’re just two species in a universe with multiple dimensions (the Multiverse). The war is not fought in physical battles; instead a more scientific approach is taken, with religion designed as part of an experiment whose results will decide the outcome of the war.
I had a lot of issues with the Antithesis, but it had a compelling story nevertheless. It also seethed with untold backstories. For example, Alezair is obsessed with Leid, plagued by the feeling that he’s met her before. Yahweh and Lucifer seem to be more like friends who are creating the illusion of being enemies. The whole war began for reasons very different from the biblical ones and is a matter of politics, not good and evil. The Antithesis itself provided little information on these and other backstories, ending instead on a cliffhanger that promised to reveal some of the history. I was curious, so I dove into Book 2α, which turned out to be a very rewarding read.
Book 2α is set 800-900 years before the events of book 1. The great war has not yet begun. In fact demons don’t exist yet and the Atrium isn’t the domain of heaven and hell but the home of beings known as the Nehel. Qaira Eltruan is Commander of the military forces in Sanctum, the Atrium’s great city. For all intents and purposes, Qaira is also the ruler, having taken on the job when his aging father could no longer perform his duties.
Qaira’s greatest concern is the decades-long conflict between his people and the Archaens – the angels. Fifty years ago their ship arrived at the Atrium after the destruction of the planet Felor. Over a million Archaens were stranded, and their commander, Lucifer Raith, begged for sanctuary in the Atrium until they could move on. Qaira’s father granted them space in the upper layers. Fifty thousand Archaen refugees set up camp but then refused to budge.
Unfortunately the Atrium is a small planet and the Archaen presence puts pressure on their limited resources. Qaira, never a gracious or tolerant person, wants the aliens dead or gone, but political considerations and the Archaen’s superior technology prevents him from taking drastic action. The two species continue to exist in an uneasy stalemate until the Nehelian Council hires a Scholar, Leid Koseling, to advise Qaira in the conflict.
Leid and Qaira can’t stand each other, but her contract requires her to stay at his side for the next decade, or until the conflict ends. They gradually warm to each other, and Leid even gives Qaira and his army a massive advantage against the Archaens. However, combined with Qaira’s temper and his hatred for the angels, Lucifer in particular, the conflict can only end in bloodshed and destruction.
Book 2α was a better read than book 1, largely because the plot is much more focussed. Book 1 dropped the reader into the middle of a conflict that’d been raging for centuries, in a context that’s always been the domain of fantasy but which Whiteman claims for sci fi. The result is fun and interesting, but also confusing, as the reader has break away from some of the usual tropes while absorbing a lot of information. Book 2α however, is more recognisable as sf, and has a more streamlined plot, sticking to the political conflict between the Qaira and the Archaens and the blossoming romance between Qaira and Leid.
The political conflict is a tough one to call. The Archaens might have lost their home, but they also rocked up uninvited at a small planet and expected to move in. The Nehel develop a racist/xenophobic attitude toward the angels, referring to them by the derogatory term “whites” (because of the colour of their hair and wings; the Nehel are darker-haired with black wings) and making it illegal for them to move freely outside of the refugee camp. As a result the angels are forced to live in terrible conditions, to the extent that some Nehel feel sorry for them and are in favour of integrating the two societies. However, it’s not like the Nehel don’t have their own ghettos and social ills, making integration a contentious issue.
Qaira, being the person that he is, openly hates the angels and is determined to get rid of them. The first thing he does in the novel is shoot one in the head. Shortly after he makes plans for attacking the refugee camp. Qaira generally claims that he does things like this for the good of his society, but it’s not hard to see that he’s also driven by extreme prejudice and blinding hatred for Lucifer, the Archaen Commander.
It’s stated several times, in this book and the previous one, that Qaira Eltruan is a monster, and in fact he’s often the one to make that claim. While it can sound a little dramatic when this comes from Qaira himself, it’s not hard to see why he was branded as such. He’s temperamental, stubborn, violent, sexist, arrogant, vulgar and bigoted. Oh, and he’s got a drug addiction What makes this worse is that he’s got control of an entire world and his actions affect the lives of millions of people. Or, more frequently, the deaths of those of people, when his bad temper, prejudice and gargantuan ego lead him to make the most appalling political and military decisions. It’s a good thing that I found Qaira to be a compelling character, because he’s certainly not a likeable one.
Nevertheless, the novel gives you a chance to empathise with Qaira, if only for short periods before he goes back to doing something violent. You see him with his family, and although he is often rude or dismissive toward them, he clearly cares for them very much. His romance with Leid reveals a (slightly) softer side to him. Perhaps the most endearing thing about Qaira is his reluctant friendship with Yahweh Telei. In Book 1, Yahweh is ruler of the angels, and the god-figure of the religions used in the war. In Book 2α he’s still a young boy, albeit a genius who is a qualified physician, geneticist and engineer, among other things. He is captured by the Nehel and held prisoner, but Qaira can’t help respecting and even caring for him, despite the fact that he persists in referring to Yahweh as a white.
Sadly, this story is doomed to end in tragedy, based on the knowledge carried over from book 1. This lends the book a sense of gravity and sadness; you know from the start that Qaira will eventually fail and millions will die, but even though he’s such a bastard it still sucks that there won’t be a happy ending.
To learn the full extent of the tragedy however, you’ll have to read Book 2β. This novel is just the first half of the story, and it ends on a cliffhanger. Whiteman is clearly doing something right because after I finished Book 2α, I immediately bought a copy of Book 2β and started reading. Thank god for ebooks – you never have to wait for them.
Obviously, I had a really good time reading The Antithesis: Book 2α. There’s loads of action, plenty of tension, and a hot-headed narrator with an extremely dangerous temper. You get to see ‘god’ when he was just a little boy genius, and ‘the devil’ when he was ruler of the angels. The simpler structure allows you to get a much better grasp on the world Whiteman has create, preparing you for the books ahead. Admittedly, it still feels a bit unrefined, a bit… wild. As with book 1, I sometimes feel I should be more critical of the novel for some reason, but then I stop and say, who cares? It’s really fun to read.