Sunday, July 7, 2013
Book Review: League of Somebodies
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of the underdog, superheros, and villainous nonsense
Publisher: Dark Coast Press
Released: April 2013
Good god it took me for-evvv-eerrrr to read this bad boy. And while there were many contributing factors to the tortoise-like speed at which I raced through this novel, two stand out more than the rest: my usual aversion to all things superhero-y and the cumbersome writing style of the author.
Disclaimer: this is me trying to branch out and read things that I normally wouldn't because awesomeness is almost always uncovered in the unknown. Right? Well, how the heck would you ever know that if you didn't broaden your reading horizons and give it a go?! So a-go I gave.
Or something like that.
What I held in my hands, I was pleased to discover, was the genre-defying story of how a real life superhero is born. League of Somebodies bends and bleeds science fiction, begging the reader to suspend all reality, but its power (and sometimes its downfall - more on this later) lies in the author's use of language to sell the story. This is not your typical POW BAM BANG story - there is very little action and quite a lot of set up and storytelling. It's literary at heart, and it has heart in spades.
Imagine this: You're an unpopular, grossly deformed pre-teen, Jewish boy - huge upper body; stunted, small, and practically useless legs - and you're informed by your father that you have been spoon fed small amounts of plutonium in the hopes that you will become the world's first real superhero. And that now, you must complete a series of multiple, life-endangering tests to prepare yourself to fight against THEY - a villainous entity that is coming after your family to steal The Manaton - a sacred, secret rulebook of manhood. Oh, and that grossly deformed body, no worries, alright, cause those tests will bring out all the wonders that the plutonium has been building up inside you. You'll look awesome in no time, kid!
That's basically what happened to poor little Lenard. Reluctant and pissed off (who wouldn't be?), he finds himself at the mercy of his trickster father time and time again, as he is shaped and molded into the man his father needs him to be, all the while falling deeply and madly in love with Laura, a family friend who is being groomed to become his wife.
Fast forward 20 years: Laura and Lenard have a son, Nemo, and begin putting him through the same rigmarole when he comes of age - only now, THEY are in hot pursuit and nothing short of snagging that Manaton, and killing anything and anyone who gets in their way, will stop them.
League of Somebodies is many things all at once. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at masculinity in all its superiority; it's a close study of fatherdom and the unending love, no matter how fucked up that father is, a son will always have towards him; and it's a tale of good vs. evil and just how difficult it is to sometimes tell who is on the side of good and who is on the side of bad.
It captivates with its less-than-perfect characters, wildy absurd man-isms, and sheer quirkiness.
Wordiness is this novel's true enemy. The story moved along so slowly at times that I actually lost the plot and had to go back and reread a page or two to regain momentum (you know how that goes, when you're reading along and suddenly you can't remember what you were just reading because it was going on and on and your mind started to wander and you lost the gist of where the author was going with it all?). Word economy can be your friend. That's all I'm saying.
Clocking in at an overwhelming 400 pages, it also required a final read-through from its editor. There were grammatical and structural issues within sentences that, while not taking away from the story exactly, were mildly distracting and sometimes frustrating, especially when they popped up all over the place. Hell, I'm no professional, so when I catch things like missing words and conjunctions, and double half-sentences, I tend to get a little ragey towards the end.
Dark Coast Press is a new-to-me press, so having never read them before, I don't know if this is a common issue of theirs, and it's certainly not one I blame entirely on the author. I'd happily be the final set of eyes to scrutinize their books before they hit the printers to help avoid this kind of faux pas in the future. (wink wink, cough cough, Dark Coast, are you listening?) Poor editing is not only damaging to the press, sadly, it's damaging to the author, too.
So, my ultimate ruling is that, while awesomeness does exist in the unknown, it sometimes comes with rough edges that still need a little smoothing out. Check it out if you can overcome the stubborn grammatical boo-boo's and excessive wordiness to read a truly unique tale about the reluctant coming of age of a superhero.