Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Book Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, complex issues

Cons: some interactions annoyed me, a bit heavy handed at times

Note: This review contains spoilers for Dreadnought, the first book in this series.

Nine months have passed since the events of Dreadnought, and Danielle has a contract to protect New Port City. She’s begun to love the feeling of power being a superhero provides, beating supervillians into submission in ways that Doc Impossible finds worrisome. Her relationship with Calamity has soured, though she’s not sure why, and multiple work and family issues occupy her thoughts. Soon after she hears news that Nemesis, the asteroid that creates quantum instabilities, is nearing Earth, a new supervillian emerges with a plan to harness its power for nefarious purposes.

I have mixed feelings about this book. There were several opening scenes that annoyed and/or made me uneasy. While some of these were dealt with in detail and worked out later on, others didn’t get much attention beyond the initial mentions.

In the first book Danielle was predominately characterized by optimism. Though her life was pretty terrible, when things got tough she constantly believed they would get better again. Dreadnought focused very specifically on Danielle’s concerns as a young woman coming of age in challenging circumstances. Sovereign broadens the outlook to show that most issues in life are complex and people can’t always be characterized as simply good or evil. Her sudden liking of violence and her enjoyment of beating people up was a little scary to read. While she’s in the pay of the government, she goes outside that purview on more than one occasion. The idea that might makes right is not ok, even if you’re the hero. Some would say, especially then. The book does deal with this, and I was happy with how the ending focused on the fact that emotional trauma doesn’t just go away with time. 

I was impressed with how the author handled Sarah and Danielle’s relationship. I loved seeing young people talk frankly about their feelings and fears instead of drawing out the misunderstandings.  

I enjoyed Kinetiq’s group work, but her first interaction with Danielle in the book kind of annoyed me. While I understand Kinetiq’s annoyance/anger that Dreadnought took credit for a group fight, their lack of consideration for Dreadnought’s age or current circumstances and insistence that she use every public appearance to push the transgender agenda ignores the fact that Dreadnought, as an acknowledged transgender superhero, already pushes that agenda.  

Graywytch was an even more horrible character in this book than the last, though she doesn’t spout slurs this time. Reading about a TERF (Trans-exclusionary radical feminist) was painful. I find it hard to attach the label ‘feminist’ to women who believe transwomen aren’t ‘real’ women, as if there’s only one experience of womanhood and all ‘real’ women share it. But it’s good to face it in fiction, as it’s often through fiction (and other types of media) that people learn empathy and compassion, and that society collectively becomes more socially aware.

I didn’t think the book dealt with the Magma and Doc issue well. Both characters have valid complaints about what happened to the Legion, and sometimes there’s no right answer that pleases everyone. While Doc was under outside control and therefore wasn’t personally responsible for the murders her body committed, Magma does have the right be angry that Doc’s lies left the Legion at a disadvantage, and feel betrayed that she never shared who her mother was. The book takes Danielle’s POV that Doc wasn’t to blame and Magma should just get over it. But this ignores that he and Chlorophyll were left permanently disabled because of that attack. I think it’s understandable that they don’t want anything to do with Doc anymore.

In terms of world-building, the author mentions several of the laws that govern superhero work. Things like the ability to buy bystander insurance and that there are legal work limits for superhero minors. One issue that wasn’t mentioned, that I’d be curious to learn the answer to, is whether superheroes have to pay for property damage incurred during their legally sanctioned missions. 

The book has a lot of excellent fight scenes, in a variety of settings. They propel the plot along and keep the pacing quick.

The plot itself was quite interesting. There’s a lot of different super powered people in this one, on all sides of the fence, and it was fun learning their different powers and where they land on the varied political spectrums.

While I didn’t like this book as fully as I did the first one, I was impressed that the author dealt with some difficult issues that many superhero books ignore. I thought Danielle’s development made sense given her life experiences, and am curious to see what the next book has in store for her.

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