Empress of the Sun

This is the third and latest instalment of the Everness stories by Ian McDonald, the tale of Everett Singh, whose father is a renowned scientist who has discovered how to travel between the multitude of parallel universes. In the first book, Everett's father disappears, leaving his valuable discovery in the care of his teenage son.

Even without knowing the previous two books, it is not very difficult to pick up what the story is about, and while it might make more sense to know more about the characters and their history, the lack of a "previously on" is not a hindrance.

What is clear is the story is aimed at a teenage audience, and the version of Earth, or more specifically north-east London, is the multicultural one we are all familiar with. And it is a contemporary one where iPhones, iPads, YouTube, Twitter etc are very much part of the conversation, as are awkward moments with girls and best mates. Even if the technology will date the setting, the language doesn't, either because the author has chosen to avoid using the continually morphing youth speak, or is not completely familiar with it. Either way the story is the better for it.

In this book, the "original" Everett has crashed with the motley crew of the titular Everness airship, in a universe where the dinosaurs never became extinct but evolved to create a technology with a 25-million-year head start on humans, that allowed them to build a megastructure, an orbiting disc world (complete with a nod to Terry Pratchett). And the dominant creatures of this universe have plans for the other universes that involve Everett's knowledge of how to travel between them.

Even though this story is for young adults, it is still engaging for enough for an older audience. The science is not overly convoluted, simply because it doesn't need to be, and not because the audience wouldn't be able to understand it. After all, it is purely speculative science, and at that level, the author manages to maintain all the rules he has devised.

Of course, one of the important aspects of an audiobook is not only the story but also how it is told, and narrator Tom Lawrence does a great job of not only recounting the story but also bringing the characters to life with a broad range of voices and accents that remain consistent throughout so as not to create confusion as to who is who.

While most of the teenage target audience would much prefer listening to their own music on headphones, this story is perfect family listening for long car journeys.

Empress of the Sun audiobook is available now from Audible for £18.99 or £7.99 with a monthly subscription.

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