Late last year I had the chance to review John Trevillian’s novel The A-Men, a story about a group of lost individuals banding together in a future Earth. If you read that review, you’ll remember that although I enjoyed the book, I had a few gripes with the disjointed story and confusing plot. The A-Men Return, the second title in Trevillian’s planned trilogy, continues the story of the main character Jack and his surviving compatriots. Where the first chapter in the A-Men’s story had its missteps, the sequel is an improvement on the first book in just about every way. In fact, the only gripes I really had were the inconsistent portrayal of the female characters and the disappointingly cliched villain. Although these issues play out at the climax of the story, they hardly detract from what is overall an enjoyable read for fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian society stories.
The A-Men Return takes place roughly four years after the events of the first novel and follows the individual characters that have long since gone their separate ways. Dead City, the main setting of the series, has established a kind of order out of the chaos as a number of rival gangs have found their footing amongst the savagery at large. The surviving members of the original A-Men who are the focus this time around – Jack, Sister Midnight, Pure, Dingo, and D’Allesandro – have all led very different lives, but ones that are still true to their characters. The second book follows the format of the first by having each chapter dedicated to one of five characters and rotating between them. The language for the characters’ outer voices and inner dialogue is written much more closely to their personalities which adds a nice wrinkle to the reading experience. It’s fairly easy to open to a page, read a line or two, and instantly know whose chapter it is. It’s also a nice change of pace when switching from one style to the next.
The A-Men Return continues the series’ tradition of bringing together characters from all walks of life. It’s been a rough four years for Jack and in some ways he’s become less than human. His vulgar, blase mindset comes out in just about everything he does and says. At the same time it’s his yearning for an escape from the world that inspires and brings together the rest of the group. Sister Midnight’s calm, focused presence is often played against Pure’s bitter, drug-addled fits. Dingo the Wonder Dog has replaced his former friend 23rdxenturyboy(from the first book) as my favorite character in the series. The experimental dog-man has a childlike innocence and exuberance that is refreshing among the grizzled cast and is far removed from a character like D’Allesandro and his scheming ways. Because of the wide range of personalities involved, none of the characters felt like throwaways.
Characters are brought together much more quickly than in the first book leading to a more cohesive story that doesn’t run the risk of losing the reader through a multitude of plot threads. The plot device of the A-Men’s internal communicators helps further that connection by allowing them to be in contact with each other even from great distances — all while D’Allesandro’s guiding hand bends them to his designs. It is fascinating to see how the characters interpret the voices inside their heads and rationalize it according to their beliefs in the world around them. This device was easily one of the best improvements between the first novel and this one.
Although the plot consistently moves forward, the bulk of the story takes place within a few set pieces. Most of the really great sequences involve Jack, which should come as no surprise since his chapters are once again considerably longer than any of the other characters. Jack running the gauntlet of the circus death maze feels like a B horror movie in the best of ways. After being captured, his battle of wits against the AI that imprisons him calls back to popular fiction like 2001. Jack’s adventures into the X-Isle, the simulated world that is a large focus of the series, are full of fantastic imagery and tense action as he must survive the ire of virtual gods. The fact that this book is a sequel allows Trevillian to spend much more time driving the actual events of the book forward rather than setting up the backstories of the characters and the world. The effect is a more exciting, pulpy experience.
I’ll admit I had some concerns about The A-Men Return after I read the first couple of chapters. Jack’s crudeness was a bit of a turn-off. All five characters starting off in separate locales had me worried that I’d have the same complaints as with the last book. Those fears were soon allayed as the old crew started coming together and the action began unfolding. I was hooked, and it was not so much on the culmination of the story as seeing how the characters dealt with each new adversity thrown at them. Naturally, I’d recommend reading the first book before reading this one, as it is best to have some backstory on the A-Men and how they parted ways, but you could get by without doing so. The finale of the second book sets Jack’s world up for the third entry of the series coming out in March of this year. I can’t wait to see how Jack deals with both his successes and his devastating failures.
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