Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: The Rise Of Renegade X, by Chelsea M. Campbell

"Damien Locke lives in an alternate universe inhabited by superheroes, supervillains, and regular people. If you are a hero, a letter H appears on your thumb when you turn 16. If you are a villain, you get a V. On his 16th birthday, Damien gets an X. He is half hero, half villain, the product of a one-night stand between his mad-scientist supervillain mother and superhero father Crimson Flash..."
-from the product page  

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that I won’t forgive a book for if it gives me fantastic characters. Plot holes? Cliches? Incest? Like the annoying girl you tolerate because her brother is way hot, I’ll welcome all those flaws it the characters are bitching.
And boy are Chelsea M. Campbells characters bitching!

Which is not to say that the book is full of plot holes and clichés. Incest on the other hand… No, I kid. (Although, Damien does spend an unusual amount of time dwelling on this mother’s sex life…) There is little that is clichéd about Renegade X’s plot, which surprised me. Oftentimes in books like this, which is to say books that feature superheros (and villains!) of the author’s own creation, certain characters will mirror other, more well known comic superheros. Perry Moore’s excellent “Hero” for example is peppered full of awfully familiar superheros, including one from another planet whose only weakness is a certain kind of crystal…
There is none of this with Campbell’s superheros. It’s surprising how refreshingly original they are. Even when their abilities are not so unique, such as shape shifting or flying, Campbell avoids comparison with “real” superheros completely.

And there are no major plot holes, or at least none that immediately jump out me. Well, no, that’s not true. I did wonder why, if every villain is clearly identifiable by the V on their thumb, were they not all just thrown in prison? Or at the very least why were they allowed to have a school where torture and mayhem were on the curriculum? (Nothing in the text suggested that Villmore’s purpose was a secret to the general public). The world building, perhaps, is a little scarce, but Campbell outlines the “rules” of her universe clearly enough and then sticks to them.

But these faults are niggley and, as I said, the characters! Oh man, the characters make up for everything! She could name her heroes Superguy and Wonder Lady and have more plot holes than Twilight and I would still be here raving about this book.

Damien, in particular, is excellently written. There is much to be said in favour of characters who are always quick with the right comeback, who say the things that we would never dare to. This type of character is common in speculative fiction, think your Loche Lamoras and Kvothes, and Damien has this element in spades (his snarky sense of humour had me laughing out loud more than once, and I’m normally a very quite reader). But unlike the other dashing anti-heroes I’ve mentioned, Damien would also fit in very nicely in a mainstream YA novel. Something witty by John Green or David Levithan.

This is because, despite his super powers, Damien is a kid a kid with a set of problems that any coming of age novel would be happy to have. He’s meeting his Dad for the first time, he’s worried that his Mum has less time for him now she has a new boyfriend, he still has feelings for his ex and on top of it all he has to decide if he wants to devote the rest of his life to good or evil. Well, ok, maybe that last one is not so common…

The rest of the cast is just as well fleshed out as Damien, with all of them from main to minor, expertly toeing the line between realistic and comic book over the topness.

Fans of good old fashioned YA coming of age tales, and fans of comic books, and especially fans of both will find much to love here.

How did this book get into my hot little hands? It was gift from my enabler (read: boyfriend)

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