Bryant merges dramatic scenery-shattering extravaganzas and tense investigations with sympathetic and complex characterisation to create a superhero tale that will appeal to more than hardcore fans of the genre.
This novel is volume three of the Menopausal Superheroes series. So – Kapow! Spoilers!
In the wake of their – mostly – successful covert operation, the Department have made a deal with Springfield to work openly alongside the police. All the Director needs now is poster-heroes for the big announcement. Both Jessica and Leonel share the Department’s desire for action – if not necessarily their definition of photogenic costumes – but each of them must deal with a family more focused on the possible downsides joining the Department brings. An uncertainty that Patricia, never a team player at the best of times, shares. With Cindy Liu still on the run, Helen literally burning a path toward an explosive confrontation with her former friends, and a new group of super-powered villains throwing Springfield into turmoil, will the superheroes find time to save their relationships and the town?
As with the previous volumes, Bryant skilfully blends classic superhero tropes with the lives of women more mature than the traditional superheroine. With the protagonists now mostly at ease with their powers and flushed with the desire to use them for good, they discover that – while those extra decades of adulthood might have freed them from teenage angst and granted them a support network often lacked by twenty-something geniuses – it has also provided them with families who rely on them as they are and the empathy to not simply walk away from their commitments.
And a somewhat greater sense of discomfort at the idea of striding around in clothes that cling or gape strategically.
However, as previously, Bryant doesn’t allow the potential realism of being a mature superhero to overwhelm the escapism at the heart of the genre. There is an equal thread of exuberantly larger-than-life action that embraces the absurd without becoming a pastiche.
This weaving of the real and the cinematic appears equally in the plot arcs, new and old: Bryant does not shy away from the horror underlying the ability to hurl fire, control people’s will, or view others as necessary losses to achieve a worthy goal; but retains the over-the-top posturing and complex plans of classic supervillains.
As might be expected of a series based on the idea of superheroes who aren’t the generic attractive, socially flexible, young things the characters are sympathetic and nuanced. With the initial shock of developing powers replaced with an acceptance of self, they each now struggle with gaining that same acceptance from others. Making full use of a varied cast, both virtuous and not so, Bryant presents several plausible perspectives on both the challenges of new opportunities and responses to them.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking fast-paced superhero action that’s more than just a string of special-effects set-pieces.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.