Combining complex characters, some of whom happen to be women experiencing the menopause, with the engaging simplicity of a classic ZAPPOWW! to the face, Bryant creates a world that offers both escape from reality and an insight into very real issues. Both light-hearted and serious, this novel represents a growth in superhero fiction.
Four women with very different lives are undergoing the menopause. But, in addition to the change and disruption they expected, it brings superpowers: Helen keeps setting things alight; Patricia develops skin so rough it stops bullets; Jessica keeps drifting off the ground; and Linda becomes a muscular Adonis of a man. As their lives overlap they gain answers, but not the ability to control their change.
Filled with dramatic fights, hurled fireballs, super strength, and mad science, this is superhero fiction at its most engaging and entertaining.
However, Bryant isn’t afraid to subvert the tropes. Replacing puberty with the equally biologically disruptive menopause as the trigger for powers produces characters without the usual concerns of youth. Instead, they have the concerns of adults. Combined with the universal dilemmas of suddenly having powers you can’t control, this creates a new perspective on the problems of power, making the protagonists more relevant to more mature readers; readers more concerned by performance reviews and getting enough sleep than exam performance and partying til dawn.
Bryant’s use of a mostly female cast provides equal freshness and accessibility. Each of the protagonists lives a mundane life and responds to it as a person rather than a wish-fulfilment fantasy. While there is Lycra and torn clothing, it is practical Lycra without cleavage cut-outs and tearing consistent with real damage. While there is gymnastics and wrestling, there are no gratuitous close-ups or pressing of heaving flesh.
Although this does have the commendable outcome of making the book diverse, it also strengthens the superhero elements. Seen against this more realistic and nuanced world, the characters’ superpowers are more dramatic and their victories and failures more extreme.
It is perhaps this balance of classic superhero action and inclusion that might ironically put off some readers: the realism risks dampening the pure escapism of smiting those who wrong us; and the fundamental absurdity of superpowers risks appearing to make light of more serious issues. However, these risks stem more from a rigidity in the reader’s expectation of how things should be represented than from any failure in Bryant’s mix.
This diversity and nuance pervades the characters. While the protagonists are all female (Linda’s forced sex-change notwithstanding) and experiencing the menopause, these are neither their defining characteristics nor a common set of challenges.
Unsurprisingly, the supporting cast and antagonists are similarly complex, acting more from plausible – if not always commendable – motives than stereotypical victimhood or villainy.
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. I recommend it to readers looking for an entertaining action adventure that is more than one-dimensional.
I received a free copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair review.