Cover art for 'World of Water,' by James Lovegrove (Image courtesy of Rebellion Publishing)

World of Water, written by award-winning author James Lovegrove, is the second installment in his Jason Bourne-esque Dev Harmer series and the sequel to 2014’s World of Fire. Dev Harmer is a special agent employed by Interstellar Security Solutions, a nebulous agency that acts like a galactic Interpol. In World of Water, Harmer is assigned to the planet Triton, a remote ocean world pockmarked with small human settlements. The settlers have been on the receiving end of violent attacks carried out by native Tritonians who appear less than pleased with the arrival of their uninvited neighbors. Harmer’s mission is to determine whether the increasing violence is a result of outside interference; more specifically, he’s been ordered to figure out if the “Plussers” — an advanced race of sentient AIs and humanity’s most ferocious alien rival — are responsible for the escalating tensions between the settlers and Tritonians.

World of Water woos readers with a thoroughly entertaining mix of factional politics, adrenaline-inducing combat and imaginative worldbuilding. Its multidimensional narrative relies heavily on intriguing subplots and character arcs that give the story a more distinct flavor than the average adventure novel and successfully guards against the monotony that sometimes accompanies action-oriented science fiction. In other words, World of Water is wonderfully well-balanced, much more so than I had originally anticipated.

While some of the characters aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, Dev Harmer is a delightfully memorable protagonist. He’s witty, charming and bold, but also surprisingly humble. He can play the role of the tough guy when the situation demands it, yet he much prefers to take the path of least resistance whenever possible. This combination of qualities makes him one of the most likable characters to whom I’ve been introduced in quite some time.

From its deceptively adorable predators to its vicious apex predators, Triton is blessed with an abundance of…well, predators. Nonetheless, the planet has a mystical quality to it, one brought to life by Lovegrove’s attention to detail. It has a rich geological history grounded in real-world scientific principles, and its ocean is a treasure trove of exotic, albeit merciless, lifeforms. You wouldn’t want to live there, but its allure is undeniable.

It’s classification as an action-adventure story notwithstanding, World of Water isn’t devoid of meaningful social commentary. Religious zealotry and the consequences of expansionism — two very weighty topics, for sure — are integral themes of the story.

Religion appears to be a particularly thorny topic for Lovegrove; his objections to faith in the supernatural are made plainly clear via character dialogue and an approach to worldbuilding that regards belief in a higher power as a useless relic of a time long past. Unfortunately, the book’s overt hostility towards religion isn’t countered by any dissenting point of view or subjected to an appropriately thoughtful analysis. At one point, Harmer mentions that, on Earth, religious fundamentalism is now classified as a mental illness. While it’s certainly plausible that humanity might one day decide to abandon its religious roots, lumping religious faith in with actual mental disorders carries some very serious implications for free societies. It would seem to me that a deeper look into the issue is more than warranted, especially when said issue plays as critical of a role as it does in World of Water.

The issue of expansionism receives much more nuanced treatment from Lovegrove and his characters. From the blatant racism directed at the Tritonians to the brutal assaults on human settlements, the humans and Tritonians are simultaneously portrayed as both the victims and the aggressors. There are individuals on both sides interested in establishing a foundation for peaceful coexistence, but bridging the gap between humans and Tritonians is easier said than done. The situation bears some resemblance to the immigration debates currently taking place in the United States and Europe, though it could also be interpreted as a simple forewarning of the challenges humanity may encounter in the very far future.

Conclusion: World of Water is what I call a good “holiday read”, meaning it’s the kind of story you kick back with while you’re relaxing on the beach during a nice, long vacation. It’s fun, easy to follow, and works well as a standalone story despite being the second entry in the series. It’s currently available from Amazon, IndieBound, Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble.

Final Grade for World of Water: B