The story of Oona Lee, An Tzu, and Jax Amboy continues in 5 Worlds: The Red Maze, the third volume of the 5 Worlds comic series. After successfully defeating the Mimic—and paying a steep price—in the previous book, Oona and her friends set off for the moon of Yatta to light the red beacon in their ongoing quest to save the five worlds from environmental disaster. They soon discover the Mimic is not exactly eradicated and that getting to the beacon in order to light it won’t be as easy as they’d hoped. Though the other worlds admire Yatta for its democratic system of government, there are downsides to that system that Oona and her friends have not anticipated, the largest of which is the corruption of the few large corporations that seem to control Moon Yatta’s politics.
Much like the previous volume, The Cobalt Prince, this book picks up the story as a direct sequel without additional context or explanation. The major arc of the story resolves within its pages, but readers will need to already be following the series for the events and characters to make sense. The Red Maze is a strong addition to the series. It is fast-paced and enjoyable to read, and it skillfully handles its world-building and sub-plots.
In keeping with the rest of the series, the book introduces plenty of big ideas and dangers that may seem familiar to readers. The ongoing climate crisis looms large in Oona’s mind as she struggles to gain access to the beacon. She and her friends soon learn about the native Yattan people, shapeshifters who have been defeated and subjugated, and are forced to wear collars that identify them and prevent them from using their abilities. As Oona struggles to advance in her quest, she encounters the disinterest of politicians focused only on their next election campaign, as well as the extensive amount of political power wielded by a handful of large corporations. Soon, the sinister head of a corporation, viewed by many as a “refreshing change” and an appealing “outsider” is running for Head Citizen of Yatta. There is even a scene in which the gang discovers they can’t get appropriate medical care for An Tzu because they can’t pay the doctor’s exorbitant fees.
At times, the cultural criticism can be a bit too on the nose for me, even though I agree with most of it, but I think overall it’s a credit to the series. It helps enhance the world-building and brings a certain depth and maturity to the story. An Tzu’s condition continues to be depicted as a disability, which is nice to see, but at this point in the series, I would have liked to see a little more diversity of ability. The comic continues to do a fair job presenting characters with a variety of skin colors and appearances. However, one complaint I had with the previous book that continues here, is that racism and discrimination continues to be addressed only in an allegorical sense, with people of color represented by aliens or magic creatures. See my review of the Cobalt Prince for more on this topic and why it can be an issue.
There are some echoes of The Hunger Games in this particular volume of 5 Worlds, as the societies of Moon Yatta and the Capitol resemble each other, and both stories invite us to take a hard look at our own world. As part of a middle grade series, however, The Red Maze is more appropriate for a younger audience, though easily enjoyable for readers of all ages. The artists remain the same from the previous two volumes, so everything I liked about the art continues to hold true.
Overall, the further I get into the 5 Worlds series, the more I like it, and I’m already looking forward to the next book. There’s a lot to enjoy about the comic and its memorable characters, and I’m eager to see where the creative team takes the story next.
5 Worlds, Book 3: The Red Maze
By Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel
Art by Xanthe Bouma, Boya Sun, Matt Rockefeller
Random House, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Series Reading Order