Dr. Infinity and the Soul Smasher by Matthew S. Cox

Front cover of Dr. Infinity and the Soul Smasher by Matthew S. CoxCox combines engaging superhero antics with the unique combination of possibility and absurdity that is computer game logic to create middle-grade action comedy that will appeal to mature readers too.

This is the fourth book in Cox’s The Adventures of Übergirl series. Some spoilers might taint the deliciousness of this review.

Kelly Donovan’s boring day turned strange when a giant pineapple pizza landed on her school leaving no evidence of who is behind it or why. The day seems to improve when her father offers her the latest game in the Star Prince series, but when she and her best friend Paige dive right in, they become trapped in the game. Being characters in a game turns out to be less fun than playing them; and worse—at in Kelly’s opinion—the longer it takes them to get to, the more time whoever is behind the evil scheme to put pineapple on pizza has to ruin pizza forever.

Cox continues his humorous superhero series with a story that blends classic superhero tropes and plot (skilfully framed for a middle grade audience) with an equally amusing pastiche of LitRPG. This produces an interesting twist on the superhero narrative where, rather than lose their powers, the heroes still have them but are in a situation where things can only be affected by them meaningfully if the game is programmed that they can.

As with previous volumes, the humour blends the concerns of middle-graders (such as deliberately ridiculous theories on cafeteria food), childlike observations on genre tropes (such as the absurdity of having a rocket silo under the garage), a touch of bodily function gags, and real-world things with different names (such as a shop called Rift rather than Gap). While the jokes are very definitely pitched for children—and in the case of gross-outs perhaps almost limited to them—adult readers are likely to enjoy them too.

While the plot is light-hearted, and in places absurd, there is a solid and engaging arc under the jokes. Both escaping the game and investigating giant pineapple pizza are presented as genuine challenges rather than vehicles for the ridiculous; and, while Kelly’s strong dislike of pineapple on pizza might seem an over-reaction, it is not treated as something to be mocked.

Kelly remains a highly sympathetic protagonist, facing all the moral dilemmas of an adult superhero but also the unique issues of a middle-grader (such as a genuine fear that being trapped in a computer game will make her break the rule on how long she is allowed to play). Thus, she is likely to appeal strongly to readers of her age while being complex enough to engage more mature readers.

Paige displays the same balance of classic superhero and child traits, making her an equally interesting character. Despite having now been Willo-the-Wisp for a while, she continues to be a nuanced person first and a superhero second.

The supporting cast is similarly strong and nuanced, their characteristics seen through a childlike perspective without appearing childish.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers of all ages seeking humorous superhero fiction

I received a free copy from the author with no request for a review.

4 thoughts on “Dr. Infinity and the Soul Smasher by Matthew S. Cox

    1. I don’t have middle-grade children and but vaguely recall being that age, so can’t offer certainty; however, other people have said their foul brood were not traumatised so it’s probably worth the risk. The first in the series is My Dad is a Mad Scientist: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/2020/02/07/my-dad-is-a-mad-scientist-by-matthew-s-cox/

      His Tales of Widowswood series are good if your youth-cursed readers also like fantasy: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/emma-and-the-banderwigh-by-matthew-s-cox/

      Cox does write adult and young adult too, so worth checking the list he puts in the back of each book to see which are which if you want to avoid mature topics.

      Liked by 1 person

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