Sorry for going AWOL for a month, I’ve had no inspiration to write anything. Here’s a recent review from my Goodreads to tide you all over until I get any more ideas. Warning — it contains slight spoilers.
Rating — 2 stars
Another day of disliking a book everyone else seems to love, which is just getting depressing. It’s a shame, since I really wanted to like it — I love the superhero genre, as I’ve mentioned previously, and I was looking forward to what could have been a fresh and nuanced take on a genre that’s so often dominated by the same tired tropes. However, this book turned out to be just a flat disappointment that did nothing but play into those overdone tropes and drag itself through 550 pages.
Because I’m in a slightly good mood, and feel like I’m being too harsh already, I’ll start with the aspects of the book I did like. The representation on display was fantastic and diverse, and this was probably the best part of the book in my opinion. There was LGBT rep shown by Adrian’s dads (although having the apparent dictators be the only LGBT characters isn’t great, is it), characters of colour including Nova, who was Italian-Filipina, and also a disabled character, which sadly is very rare in the superhero genre so props to the author for including it. I also really liked the found family dynamics shown by the Anarchists, who in general were really fun to read about and more interesting than the hero characters.
Now I guess it’s time for me to talk about everything else that went wrong. I suppose I’ll start with what’s probably my least favourite element of YA as a genre at the moment — the romance.
I can pinpoint exactly the reason why it was so terrible (other than the fact that both Nova and Adrian had the personalities of a single piece of bread, but we’ll get to that), which is that it’s about as unsubtle as a brick wall. I can see what the author was trying to do — which was to write a slow burn romance — but the execution of this was almost physically painful. I’ve read a lot of fanfiction in my time, so I know what a good slow burn romance is supposed to look like, and this was not it.
The problem is that the romance pretty much starts at around 30%, when Adrian picks Nova at the trials, and then the rest of the book is just the author saying again and again “Look, they like each other. Look. Look. Look.” This was incredibly tedious and infuriating, as instead of the trust, friendship and eventual romance between Nova and Adrian being slowly but steadily built up, we’re simply told over and over again for 400 fucking pages that they have crushes on each other.
That’s not even touching on the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to care about Nova or Adrian or their relationship because of how bland and stale they were. They felt like rushed cardboard cut-outs of the tropes their characters were taken from: the morally conflicted villain and the goody two shoes hero. The only characters I actually found interesting were the aforementioned Anarchists, who were at least fun.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the plot — or, rather, lack thereof — and the pacing, which both confused me to no end as I wondered why no one had bothered to correct whatever the hell was going on with it. It was so strange because I could tell that things happened, and I’m sure they happened for a reason, but if you asked me to summarise the overarching plot of the book I wouldn’t be able to do so. The scenes that did happen felt like separate vignettes, completely divorced from each other and serving no real purpose, especially not to add to the main plot of the book because there was no such thing. I only started feeling vaguely invested in the plot about 15 pages from the end when all these twists and reveals started happening in rapid succession, presumably to keep people interested enough to pick up the second book.
There were also some other nitpicky-type problems I picked up on that I felt were worth mentioning but couldn’t flesh out enough into an entire point. First, everyone seemed to be cliched and cheesy, from the overdone tropes to the dialogue. A particularly egregious offender on that front was the discussions and handling of morality, which was mainly just the hammering home of the centrist, bland take that “both sides have flaws and good points!” despite the fact that the book tries to sell itself as having complex morality. This view is so tired and has been explored and parroted numerous times by so many other works in the superhero genre. It’s so disappointing to me that the book follows this bland-morality route, because this genre is rife with opportunity to actually explore complex moral issues but no one seems to want to do that.
The author also brings in many real world political elements that she doesn’t seem to fully understand; for example, Adrian refers to the “people in power” during the Age of Anarchy, despite the fact that no one was in power during that time as that’s the entire point of anarchism. There is also no explanation of how this Age of Anarchy was sustained for 20 years, despite the sort of chaos and the power vacuum that a long period of anarchism would create being ideal catalysts for the rise of fascism and/or dictatorship. It seems highly unlikely that in all that time no one would try to take power on the promise of eradicating all prodigies, criminals or not, especially since there seem to be enough people who hate prodigies to support such a leader.
Furthermore, the Council appeared to be foreshadowed to be themselves dictators, due to the many references to them putting building a fancy hall or repairing an amusement park over setting up a recycling system for Gatlon City, or to them not letting people vote and trying to formulate a way to take prodigies’ powers. However, none of these hints are given any sort of satisfying payoff, although hopefully they’re addressed in the rest of the trilogy (I don’t care enough to read it for myself and check).
On powers, I have two points to make. First off, the assignment of powers makes no sense at all. Some people are born with their powers, although apparently genetics has no influence on this and they just… manifest; other people’s powers were somehow triggered by traumatic experiences, which also doesn’t make sense. I mean, at the very least stick to one system.
Second, there are issues surrounding secret identities, specifically Adrian’s as the Sentinel (this isn’t a spoiler, we’re told this at the beginning). All that did for me was raise questions that didn’t get any answers, because the entire thing didn’t make any sense. Why did Adrian need a secret identity when he was already a Renegade? Why didn’t he just tell his dads that he could give himself new powers through tattoos? How could no one tell that Adrian was the Sentinel when every time Adrian disappeared the Sentinel appeared? The only thing that subplot actually did for the book as a whole was to give me a headache.
In conclusion, this book really wasn’t for me. It took me a week to read, most likely because it was too boring for me to focus on for more than a few pages at a time, and I’d also started reading a really great fanfiction while I was in the middle of this, so whenever I decided to get off Twitter and read something the choice between that and this boring mess was a no-brainer. Even the twists at the end that were meant to draw the reader’s attention back to the non-existent plot didn’t work on me — when I got to the last page, instead of anticipation or any sort of desire to read on, all I felt was relief. And I think that sums up my experience with this book nicely.