In Time Siege, the second volume of Wesley Chu’s series of time-travel thrillers that began with Time Salavger, expands its scope to the massive scale—which is saying something, considering the author’s kinetic, cinematic prose style is often best-served in the context of humongous action sequences. The sequel’s set pieces are his most massive, most epic yet: building-wide sieges, titanic duels between gigantic weapons of mass destruction, and an extended hallway fight that’s up there with bravura onscreen combat sequences from Oldboy and Daredevil. When paired with Chu’s signature quick-witted dialogue and a cast of colorful characters that fling themselves bodily off the page, the result is a fast-paced, hard-hitting reading experience whose only disappointment it ends on a terrible cliffhanger, and book three is at least a year away.
Things pick up right where Time Salvager left off: in the future, Earth is on the brink of ecological collapse. A dangerous “earth plague” runs rampant, wilderness has reclaimed once-populated areas, the rusted and disused junk of endless warfare is piled everywhere, and the island of Manhattan is home to dozens of warring tribes fighting over the crumbling real estate (so basically like today, but with fewer Pret a Manger locations). The jungles and forests of the rotting Big Apple make a great place for fugitive time traveler James Griffin-Mars and his associates to hide out. On the run from the evil Valta corporation, the corrupt non-profit time travel agency ChronoCom, and a host of other enemies, James and his allies are attempting to cure the plague and make Earth habitable again. But with James also plagued by personal demons and unable to make jumps into the past, Valta’s vicious Securitate Kuo closing in on the heroes’ base of operations, and the tribes of New York unwilling to cooperate, the heroes must reach out across history to find allies to help them complete their mission.
Wesley Chu’s talent for inventive SF action hasn’t waned with time. He stages a series of “exo battles,” in which armored combatants clash using shields and hard-light energy weapons, that are every bit as exciting as the martial arts beatdowns and parkour escapes of his Lives of Tao series, with an added boost of pulp-science visual flair in the form of energy coils whipping through the air, taking down combatants in showers of sparks. The book races from one immense set piece to another, from a tactical fight against a small army in an even smaller hallway, to a desperate stronghold defense using a millennia’s worth of weapons tech, to a fight between two rivals atop (and around, and, at one point, through) a rampaging war mech.
It’s not all explosions and energy whips, either—Chu’s characters are a quick-witted and snarky bunch, but always retain enough pathos to seem like actual humans. They also share a tremendous amount of chemistry, making the quips seem less like staged snarky dialogue and more like a group of friends bantering their way through a difficult situation. I particularly love Titus, a prickly former Venusian ruler snatched out of time (moments before his “retirement” via ritual suicide, no less) to play medic to our heroes and their band of primitive earthlings. While Titus is gruff, he still serves the greater good with a minimum amount of fuss—and anyway, I’d be gruff too if I was kidnapped across time and forced into a hardscrabble life in a post-apocalyptic future.
If you’re looking for a book that embodies the spirit of the best summer blockbusters, I cannot recommend this series enough. It’s easy enough to jump right into the action with Time Siege, and those returning to the Time Salvager universe will find a sequel that’s bigger and better in every way.