Archive for Superhero Prose Fiction

Freedom’s Conductor

Alright, let’s review a book today — something that’s part historical fiction, part steampunk, part superhero, part mind-blowing awesomeness. Let’s review Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman by Balogun Ojetade.

This was originally published in 2012. It was divided into two parts — Book 1: Kings and Book 2: Judges — and was the author’s vision for a genre he called “Steamfunk” — steampunk that centered on the struggles and heroism of Africans and African-Americans.

We are, I trust, familiar with the life of Harriet Tubman? Escaped slave, liberator, abolitionist, spy, scout, soldier, activist, and all-around badass, she was wounded as a child by a slave owner who hit her in the head with a metal weight, and she suffered visions and dreams for the rest of her life that she felt were messages from God and thus pushed her into a Christian life of doing good for others. She led slaves to freedom, fought against the Confederate South as a spy and soldier, even leading a raid that liberated 750 slaves. For all her work as a freedom fighter, she was rarely appreciated or rewarded by the United States, still largely locked in to a white-supremacist mindset.

Even today, white supremacists hate her and her legacy — they reacted with fury when the Obama administration announced plans to put her picture on the $20 bill, and canceling those plans was a top priority of Donald Trump’s weasley Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

As for Ojetade’s novel, it gets crazy really fast. It opens with Tubman on a secret mission to save a kidnapped girl on behalf of an American actor. Once she tracks the abductors to their hideout, she handily defeats them — using her ninja-level combat skills and Wolverine-level healing factor! But it turns out the actor who hired her — John Wilkes Booth — just killed President Lincoln! And the girl’s real father is Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War — and a secret megalomaniacal supervillain!

And Harriet still has her psychic visions in this book. They warn her that dire times are ahead, so she takes the girl and goes on the run. And Stanton pursues, along with his team of superhuman assassins. There are other threats on the way, including the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, werewolves, ghuls, a body-switching demon that calls himself John Brown, and the elderly but terrifyingly Hulk-like Mama Maybelle.

Harriet is far from defenseless. Aside from her staggering powers, she attracts a host of heroes similarly brushed by power, including Baas Bello, an extraordinarily inventive genius who created a properly steampunkian airship and a literal underground railroad, and Stagecoach Mary, supremely skilled as both a brawler and a shootist.

This book has a number of strengths. Characterization is fantastic, particularly for Harriet herself. I think a lot of writers would take Tubman’s actual badassery and take it as an excuse to give her an action hero persona, all attitude and one-liners. Ojetade sticks to Harriet’s actual personality — she’s a relentless do-gooder and an absolute believer in Christianity and the power of God. She sees herself as a weapon to be used by the Lord, and while she may wish God wouldn’t send her up against quite so many powerful foes, she’s willing to trust in Him and in the visions He sends her. She is not an action star, full of shallow quips — she’s Harriet Tubman. With a few ahistorical powers. In fact, Ojetade has said he considers himself to be a Harriet Tubman superfan and thinks of her as “the first modern superhero,” who lived a life full of amazing feats. Aside from giving her superpowers, she is not a woman who needs embellishment to be cool.

The book is also jam-packed with action. Ojetade is a skilled martial artist and martial arts teacher, and he’s written books about martial arts. He’s a man who knows how to write a thrilling action sequence and how to make it work with the plot. Harriet’s fighting skills are suitably beyond belief, but she still throws a punch you can believe in.

Another of the books strengths is, frankly, its audacity. I knew when I got it that it was a fantasy filled with monsters and action — but I was absolutely unprepared for her to bust heads like Batman in the first few pages. And by the time we find out that her employer was John Wilkes Booth — and when we learn his real identity — I was well and truly hooked. Nothing could’ve shaken me loose.

Ojetade is clearly a fan of speculative fiction, and he’s stated that he wants to see more people of color as heroes in genre fiction, partly because they’ve been so rare in the past. He has said he feels the way to get more people of color reading and writing speculative fiction is to give them more opportunities to see heroes who look like them, and not yet another white hero. He has said books like this are his attempt to turn the tide in the other direction.

Ojetade has written other books closely affiliated with “Moses.” There has been one sequel, “The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman: Freedonia,” which follows the adventures of Harriet and Stagecoach Mary in a parallel universe. He’s also written a roleplaying game called “Steamfunkateers” which includes characters and inspiration from the novel.

You wanna have your brain blown out the back of your head by an amazing action novel? You’ll definitely want to pick this up.

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Pure Power

It’s been years — literally! — since I reviewed a superhero prose novel, ain’t it? So here’s one I read a few years ago: Dreadnought by April Daniels.

Danny Tozer doesn’t have a very easy life. Her father is abusive. Her mother is distant. And she’s a closeted trans girl. And things get even rougher for her one day when the world’s greatest hero falls out of the sky, dies at her feet, and grants her all of his amazing powers — superstrength, invulnerability, flight. And it all comes wrapped up with a free transformation into the ideal body she’s always imagined for herself.

Okay, the powers are cool, but now that she can’t hide the fact that she’s a girl, her parents get even more emotionally abusive, and she loses her best friend. And actually, the cool powers come with a major drawback — the supervillain who killed the most recent Dreadnought is now coming after Danny, too.

And the local superheroes are — well, a few of them are welcoming and helpful to Danny, and others are really, really, really unhelpful. And when a gang of high-tech villains working for the ultimate Big Bad come to town for some robbery, murder, and mayhem, Danny will have to hope the power of the Dreadnought will be enough to save the day — and her own life.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is April Daniels’ very first novel, and it reads like it’s her fiftieth — she has a feel for characterization and action that usually takes years to get right. Danny is, obviously, the key character in the book, and her reactions are excellent — as an abused child, she can’t bring herself to fight back against her frantically angry father, partly because she doesn’t want to hurt him, and partly because she’s gotten used to knuckling under and letting him scream at her, and she can’t break free of that habit yet.

Two other fantastic characters are Doc Impossible, a scientific super-genius who gives Danny emotional and material support, and Calamity, Danny’s friend and vigilante super-soldier, who helps her learn how to be a good hero. Some other characters are less fully created — Danny’s parents are a bit one-note, and Greywytch, a spell-slinging TERF, is mostly there to give you someone to despise.

While there’s lots of teenage hijinx and investigations with Danny and Calamity, and plenty of teen angst from Danny, when the action hits, it hits very, very hard. Danny is very powerful, but she doesn’t really understand how her abilities work, and her opponents are powerful enough to put her through a hell of a lot of pain. The fight scenes are frantic and terrifying, because Danny never knows if she’s really powerful enough to survive what the bad guys are going to do to her.

All in all, it’s an incredibly fun superhero tale with a lot of fun, relatable characters. If you love superheroes, if you love great characters and action, and if you have a trans friend who could use a pick-me-up, you should grab this book.

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Superhero Road Trip

RoninGames

Wearing the Cape: Ronin Games by Marion G. Harmon

Hey, it’s the latest chapter in the best damn superhero fiction series on the planet! What’ve we got this time?

Once again, we’re well-acquainted with most of our characters already — Hope Corrigan is our lead character, better known as the superstrong superheroine Astra. There’s Shell, the techno-ghost of her late best friend, now residing in a robotic exoskeleton as the hero Galatea, though she spends much of this story disguised as a cat. There’s also Shelly, Hope’s late best friend now returned to life, and a completely separate person from Shell. There’s Jacky, the thoroughly badass vampiric superhero Artemis. And there’s Ozma, who claims to be the exiled Princess Ozma of Oz.

Hope has been infected for a while by dreams caused by the mysterious superhuman called Kitsune, but the dreams are different now — they’re focused solely on a single tree, and it appears that their highly magical nature could mean that Hope could be drawn completely into the dream, disappearing from the rest of the world for all time. Clearly, Kitsune should be able to clear this problem up, but no one knows where he is — until a government contact reveals that Kitsune works periodically as an agent of Japan, and they’re unwilling to let anyone know that. Unfortunately, superheroes aren’t allowed to travel to Japan without permission, so Hope and her friends will have to disguise themselves and sneak into Japan — an act that could get them all thrown in jail.

Of course, there are plenty of problems. Their secret entry into the country is spoiled, and they barely avoid capture by the national superhero teams. They’re forced to serve as ronin — vigilantes unaffiliated with the national superteams, and thus operating illegally. They battle Chinese supervillains, the Yakuza, and even a hyper-powered metahuman god manifesting as a school of omnipotent goldfish. But even after escaping from the goldfish’s realm, Astra gets captured by the government, with the very real possibility that she’ll be unmasked and thrown out of the superhero biz. Can Astra escape from captivity? Can she find Kitsune and get her dream curse lifted? And can Astra, Artemis, and Ozma help repel an invasion of kaiju?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, I always enjoy this series, but this one seemed particularly fun. The characters are out of their comfort zone, the action is, as always, amazing and grand, and the plot points are resolved with cleverness, humor, and the occasional beat-down.

One of my favorite things about this novel is that it reduces the number of characters we have to keep track of. Listen, this series has a lot of characters, and it’s not at all difficult to lose track of who everyone is. And while there are still quite a few characters in here, after a certain point in the story, most of them go offstage for a while, letting us focus on the ones we’re most familiar with — Hope, Jacky, and Shell — and the one everyone seems to want to learn more about — Ozma. This is a very, very good thing. I might not want every story to focus on just four characters, but it’s a nice change of pace.

I think by now we’re all very well aware of how much I love this series, so let me just say it’s a great book — go pick it up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Small Town Heroes

Time to check inside our Holiday Gift Bag again, to see some more ideas you can get for the person in your life who loves comics and superheroes. Today, we take a look at Wearing the Cape: Small Town Heroes by Marion G. Harmon.

WearingTheCape-SmallTownHeroes

If you’ve kept track of this series, you know most of the main characters already. Our lead is, as always, Hope Corrigan, better known as the superstrong superheroine Astra — she’s now leading the Young Sentinels branch of Chicago’s Sentinels superteam. There’s Shell, the techno-ghost of her late best friend, now residing in a robotic exoskeleton as the superhero Galatea — and there’s Shelly, her late best friend now returned to life, and a completely separate person from Shell. There’s Jacky, the vampiric (but also alive) superhero Artemis.

Hope has been having weird dreams — not normal dreams either, as they’re being telepathically sent by a maybe-hero, maybe-villain called Kitsune. The dreams warn of the fiery destruction of a small town in the Midwest that no one can seem to identify. Hope’s attempts to figure out where the town is and what the dreams mean put her in touch with some of the Sentinels’ contacts with the federal government — and that leads to Hope being recruited into the Department of Superhuman Affairs. They’ve got some serious secrets hidden at Guantanamo Bay — namely a little town that can’t possibly exist called Littleton. Can Astra keep a secret hyper-science town from its foretold destruction?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Y’all know I love the stuffing out of this entire series, right? I’m pleased to announce that this one maintains the high quality we’ve come to expect from these books.

Really, pretty much all the stuff I loved from the previous books is here in this new one, too. Excellent characterization, bone-rattling action, realism and superhero fantasy that fit side-by-side without breaking either one.

It’s rare that you get superhero fiction that doesn’t end up turning dark and grim, or just focusing on the supervillains, all for the sake of faux-maturity — but this series sticks to the idea that superheroes are the good guys, it does it unironically, and it makes the entire thing work like a dream.

Do you have someone on your shopping list who loves superheroes, especially ass-kicking female heroes? You’ll definitely want to pick this one up for them. And if they haven’t read this series yet, you may want to get the rest of the “Wearing the Cape” series for ’em, too.

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India Inked

Turbulence

Turbulence by Samit Basu

If there’s one thing we’re accustomed to in American comics, it’s that most superheroes are Americans. Sure, you get the occasional nod to superheroes from Canada, the UK, Russia, Japan, or China. But we always focus on American superheroes. And we always consider it a triumph for diversity when a team of heroes has more than one person of color. But if we went by total population, who’d have the largest populations of super-powered people? China first, obviously, but after that would be India — and that’s the setting for this book.

Our setup for the novel comes when everyone aboard a plane traveling from London to Delhi ends up getting powers, some grand and earth-shattering, some modest and barely noticible, but all exactly the powers that suited each person’s personality and greatest desires.

So we meet Aman, who gets vast powers over telecommunications and decides he wants to save the world from itself. Vir, a pilot in the Indian Air Force, gets flight, superspeed, and super-durability. Aspiring actress Uzma becomes superhumanly likeable. Harried housewife Tia can clone herself as many times as she wants. Sher is a tiger-headed super-warrior. Princess Anima is a schoolgirl with massively powerful anime-inspired combat abilities. And Jai is entirely indestructible — and he wants to conquer the entire world.

And they’re not all heroes. Jai is certainly the most powerful being on the planet, and he gathers most of the other really powerful people to his side really quickly. He kills the people who aren’t useful to him. The pitifully few heroes don’t tend to have the most combat-worthy abilities, and they’re generally outgunned and seemingly doomed. What chance do they have to save India, much less the rest of the world?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a novel with a setting that’s surprisingly refreshing — it’s fun to get better acquainted with India and its gigantically diverse population through this book. But it’s not just a geographical lesson plan — because that would be no fun at all. This is a superhero story, and it really excels.

The characters are amazingly fun — I really couldn’t pick out a favorite. Aman and his pigheaded naivete, Uzma and the way she slowly grows out of her shallow egotism, Tia’s maternal kickassery, Vir’s stubborn and frequently stupid heroism. Sher and Princess Anima are both terrifying in different ways and also hugely charismatic in equally different ways. And Jai is so despicably dislikeable — but you really wouldn’t hate him so much if her weren’t such a gloriously created villain. And there are plenty of minor characters who you wish had larger roles in the story just so you could get to know them better.

The action and fight scenes are fantastic, harrowing, horrifying, and everything you’d want from a bunch of super-battles. And the story continually grows more and more exciting, with the stakes being continually raised higher and higher. The further along you go in the story, the less likely you are to want to put it down for very long.

Is it a good superhero story? Heck, yes. It may be one of the best I’ve ever read. Should you go pick it up. Yes, seriously, go pick it up. You’ll love this.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Wearing the Cape

Still so many great gifts I wanna recommend, and I really don’t think I’ll have time to review them all. But for today, let’s talk about Wearing the Cape: Young Sentinels by Marion G. Harmon.

WearingtheCape-YoungSentinels

I love all the “Wearing the Cape” books. I get enjoyment outta them that I don’t get from any other superhero novels — and from only very few comic books. So I always look forward to a new one.

In the latest novel, Hope “Astra” Corrigan is settling down into her role as one of the leading heroes of the Chicago Sentinels. There are a lot of familiar faces — Blackstone, Watchman, Harlequin, Chakra, Seven, and Astra’s best friend, Shelley, whose completely digital status allows her to upload herself into the robot body of Galatea.

There are a lot of new crises — a new villain called the Green Man periodically tries to destroy the city with out-of-control plant life, and a new villain group called the Wreckers are targeting anti-metahuman organizations. And there are lots of changes in store for Astra, too — chiefly, she’s being put in charge of a new junior branch of the Sentinels.

And that means we get to meet a bunch of new young superheroes, including angsty exploding kid Megaton, shapeshifting teen monster Grendel, arrogant aerokinetic Tsuris, and Ozma, a magic user who claims to be the actual Empress of Oz. Can she mold them into a serious team, especially with the colossal personal changes going on in her life?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I love the stuffing out of this series.

The characterization and dialogue are first-rate. The personalities of almost every character are incredibly strong and distinctive, and most of them are charismatic enough that you want to read more about them. When things are going well for them, you want to celebrate — when things are not going well, you wanna commisserate with them. When they’re in danger, you get worried about ’em, because they all feel like real people.

The action is fantastic, too — it always feels desperate, painful, panicked, and exciting, and that’s really perfect for this series. Superhero action should be above and beyond anything in any other genre, and the action in the “Wearing the Cape” series is breathtakingly great. And it’s not just the superheroic crises and disasters — the personal crises that come up genuinely feel like crises, too. When an injury to a sibling feels just as terrifying as a wave of killer vegetation preparing to destroy Chicago O’Hare International Airport, you’ve definitely got the Superhero Angst-and-Crisis Meter pegged in the right direction.

Maybe my favorite thing about this series is that it’s realistic without being boring or depressing. There are a lot of superhero stories that opt for realism that kills the superheroic mood and turns into gritty military sci-fi, but Harmon realizes that you can have realism in superhero fiction as long as you give your story permission to ignore realism and just let superheroes testify in court while wearing masks, let superheroes get into super-fights without killing everyone, let fictional magic items from Oz show up and work just like they did in Baum’s novels. These books are realistic and fun, and we need more of those, in every possible genre.

My lone quibble with this novel — I wasn’t a big fan of the alternate narrators. The previous novels have been entirely narrated by Astra, so it took a little time to catch on that she wasn’t going to be the sole focal character this time out. And while I liked Megaton and Grendel just fine — and while I kinda wanted to see some of this story from Ozma’s viewpoint — I still wished we could have more Astra.

But that’s a very minor quibble, because this is a seriously fantastic novel. If you haven’t read it — or if you want to get it for a friend who enjoys superhero novels — you should definitely pick it up. And if you haven’t read any of the “Wearing the Cape” books — well, you should probably read all of ’em.

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Prepare to Read!

PrepareToDie

Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin

I finished this one quite a while back, and I’ve just got such a huge backlog of books, it’s taken me this long to get a review written.

Y’all know Paul Tobin, right? He’s written so many comics. And here’s his superhero novel!

Steve Clarke went from 14-year-old rebel to first-rate superhero during a freak chemical accident. As Reaver, he’s superstrong, super-fast, and every time he punches someone, it literally takes a year off their life. But now, Reaver is one of the last superheroes on Earth, and after an encounter with the diabolical Octagon and his team of super-powered psychos, Steve gets beat down pretty hard. As the Octagon prepares his killing blow, he tells Reaver “Prepare to die!” So Steve says, okay, I’d like to have a month to prepare to die. He doesn’t get it — the Octagon gives him just two weeks to put his affairs in order, then he’ll be back to kill him.

So Steve goes back to his old hometown to find Adele, the girl he loved when he was 14. He starts up a (probably really short-lived) relationship with her, hangs out with Adele’s sister and her lesbian lover, and remembers all his old superhero friends, including Paladin, Steve’s best friend and Earth’s greatest hero, and Kid Crater, the sidekick who Steve failed. Can Steve face his death with dignity? Should he fight to survive? Will he be able to save Adele when the villains find out about her?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a good, fun book, full of humor, great characterization, absolutely terrifying action, at least one genuinely shocking plot twist, and a killer hook that’ll draw you in for the entire rest of the novel.

I loved the characters so much, and that’s what a good superhero novel needs. Steve is dark and conflicted… and depressed. He wanted so much to be like his best friend Paladin, and when he finds out that life isn’t all roses and glory for his friend, it breaks him pretty hard. Adele is a pretty great character, too, though I think I’ve got some quibbles about her, too. The Octagon and all the villains are amazingly scary — give deadly powers to a bunch of lunatics, and you’d get something like these guys. No wonder all the superheroes are dead.

The major quibble with this book is that it’s pretty neanderthal when it comes to women. Every woman Steve encounters, he either remarks on whether or not he wants to have sex with her — or he reminisces about previously having sex with her. Well, fine, Steve is a bit of a neanderthal anyway, right? Maybe so, but there are also a few weird things with Adele’s characterization — she apparently stayed obsessed with Steve after his accident and years-long coma, long after he’d completely disappeared from her life, to the point of becoming an alcoholic because she couldn’t stop thinking about him. That’s kinda sorta crazy, because most people get over even the worst heartbreak in time, especially heartbreak from when you were 14 years old. But the great male fantasy is that the girl you loved and lost would still love you today, right?

But there’s a lot of stuff to love about this book. The action is scare-the-pants-off-you good — Reaver is in over his head in almost every battle, and you’re always left wondering if even his healing factor will be able to keep up with all the damage he’s taking.

And I believe I’ve mentioned the plot twist already? I’ll mention it again. It’s very good. It’s very, very good. It’s really a bit of a masterwork of a plot twist.

It’s not at all bad, guys. Y’all should go pick it up.

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Rook’s Gambit

RedRook

The Red Rook by Fritz Freiheit

This is the first sequel to Freiheit’s fun superhero novel “Dispensing Justice,” which was previously reviewed here. The new book switches the focus from Michael Gurick, the super-genius teen techno-hero called the Dispenser, to his best friend Penny Riggs-Armstrong, who’s superstrong and indestructible, but very resistant to her superhero mom’s beliefs that she’s ready to put on the cape and cowl herself. Penny prefers to operate as Michael’s tactical coordinator, advising him by radio, as a way to demonstrate her intelligence over brute strength.

Mixed into all of this is their friend Kimball Kinnison, a telepath who fights crime as Lensark; Penny’s twin siblings, Andy and Achilles, who are much too strong and much too rambunctious; and Cleo Fox, Michael’s girlfriend and the daughter of another superhero, who has unusual sensory powers of her own.

Life is running fairly normally — or at least as normally as things get for teenaged superheroes — until they’re all suddenly targeted by renegade killer androids. Robotic technology is pretty advanced in this alternate-history 1980s setting, so there are actually quite a few androids around — some of them very human-looking, some not. After several destructive attacks and the revelation that the notorious assassin Kill Switch has been hired to kill a politician, Penny and her friends will have to take on a team of supervillains and invade a deadly flying fortress. Can they prove themselves as true heroes and save the day?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Much like the first book, there are a lot of excellently drawn characters and dialogue, and a wonderful plot. Penny is an excellent protagonist — probably a better one than Michael was in the first book, ’cause Penny has a lot more common sense and charisma than Michael did.

And much like the first one, you may get freaked out about the length of this one. By my count, it runs almost 400 pages and over 120 chapters. But those chapters are short, and the reading goes really, really fast. You can zip through this one in just a few days, and you’ll love every minute of the ride.

If I’ve got a criticism, it’s that the early parts of the story are dominated by flashbacks, including retelling the climax of the previous novel from Penny’s point-of-view, along with some lengthy historical lessons. It makes it a little hard to get into the story when we spend so much time with stuff that’s already happened.

But aside from that, it’s a rollicking, exciting story, with a ton of grand action sequences (the androids’ attack on the school is particularly great), fantastic humor, and much, much more.

If you like superhero novels — and I hope I’ve trained y’all well enough that you do — you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.

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Seventh Heaven

SevenWonders

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

The second novel by British writer Adam Christopher is actually more of a pure superhero story than his first one was. This one is set in the city of San Ventura, the only place in the world where there’s still a functioning superteam — the Seven Wonders — because it’s the only city where a supervillain — the diabolical Cowl — still operates.

We’ve got a pretty wide collection of characters to follow. There’s Tony Prosdocimi, working class schlub, who suddenly finds himself gaining superpowers; his somewhat mysterious girlfriend Jeannie; the Cowl himself, perplexed by the slow loss of his own powers; Blackbird, the Cowl’s sidekick; Sam Millar and Joe Milano, hard-working cops on the Cowl’s trail; and the Seven Wonders themselves: the powerful leader Aurora, the telepathic Bluebell, the speedster Linear, the alien powerhouse Dragon Star, the godlike technologist Hephaestus, his robotic creation SMART, and the shapeshifting warrior Sand Cat.

Once Tony discovers his powers, he becomes obsessed with becoming a hero, so he can defeat the Cowl and confront the Seven Wonders about their negligence in dealing with the murderous villain. At the same time, the Cowl is following a scheme to get his hands on a weapon so powerful and destructive that the Seven Wonders hid it and then made themselves forget where it was. And there’s an even more dire threat looming on the horizon — a crisis so dire it will force heroes and villains to unite to try to stop it.

There’s not a lot more I can tell without giving away spoilers. But I will note that more than one character switches sides, from good to bad, and from bad to good. Lots of people die — and some of them even come back from the dead.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a good, rollicking story, excellent action, mystery, and intrigue, and it reads pretty dang fast — it’s real easy to keep the pages turning.

Characterization is, at times, very good. Some of the characters are very interesting and well-created. Others are contradictory — several of the characters who switch sides appear to have done so just so the plot could have some characters who switched sides. While it keeps the plot moving, it can be very jarring. “Well, I was a good guy — time to embrace monstrous evil!” And some of the characters seem just barely sketched-in — they seem to be there to fill a spot on the stage, to help with battles, or to die somewhat dramatically.

It’s also a bit of a shock when our viewpoint character completely exits the story for about a third of the book.

I guess this is a certain amount of nitpicking, because, like I said, I did enjoy the book quite a bit. But I also wished I’d enjoyed it a little bit more

Still, certainly worth reading for fans of superhero fiction. Go pick it up.

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Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Down on Friday

FridaySociety

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

So here’s this fun little novel I stumbled across — it’s set around the turn of the century in London and stars three young women with interesting talents and general dissatisfaction with the way their lives are working out. Cora is a scientific and engineering genius who is frustrated that her boss, an MP and a genius in his own right, doesn’t seem to appreciate all she does. Nellie is an assistant for a famous magician, and while he does appreciate and support her, she dreams of having her own adventures. Michiko is a young Japanese woman, superbly trained as a samurai, but with limited skills in English and yoked to an abusive egomaniac.

What brings them together, besides random chance, is a villain — an ominous, powerful foe known as the Fog — who’s roaming the streets at night murdering prominent gentlemen and innocent flower girls, breaking into the Tower of London to steal the Crown Jewels, and eventually staging a daring and destructive attack on the entire city. The police are helpless, the greatest men in the nation are clueless, so what hope can we expect from a girl trained in the construction of steampunk weaponry, another girl who knows more about sleight-of-hand, trickery, acrobatics, and thievery than anyone else in the city, and another girl who is one of the most skilled martial artists in the nation? And if they know that their actions could have serious repercussions, what sort of disguises will they devise to protect themselves?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m not normally all that big on steampunk — I love it in theory, but it often doesn’t live up to my expectations. Still, I loved the stuffings out of this book — partly because it wasn’t entirely a steampunk story. You can’t expect a lot of faithfully rendered Victorian/Edwardian attitude — it’s really very anachronistic, as all three of our main characters generally talk and act like modern-day women. Honestly, I think that’s fine — this was designed as a young adult novel, specifically to appeal to girls, so I don’t see any problem with having our characters think like more modern women.

Which brings us to our characters themselves — Cora, Nellie, and Michiko are all total winners as characters. Cora brings the frustrated snark along with the brainy science, Nellie is part girly-girl, part swashbuckler, all enthusiasm, and Michiko is controlled, quiet, and generally confused by almost everything Cora and Nellie do. And they all work together really well. They all get individual moments to shine, and they all get moments where they shine as a team. They even get moments where they fail to shine, just to show that their not perfect, unstoppable heroes.

I am fairly impressed that Kress specifically planned to have Nellie be the character most fond of stereotypically girly pursuits, primarily for the sake of realism — plenty of girls like dresses and shoes and sparkles while still being awesome, so it makes good sense to give them their own character.

The action’s great, the mystery is fun, the plot twists are entertaining. I suppose I should’ve figured out what kind of disguises they were going to come up with, but I didn’t, so that added to the fun, too.

If I’ve got a criticism, I’d say I wish Michiko had known a bit more English. There were too many scenes that featured Cora and Nellie talking to each other while Michiko stood by silently. But hopefully, that will be less of a problem in the sequels (and I hope there are sequels on the way).

It’s a good book. Go pick it up.

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