Midnighters post is postponed because I suddenly have a lot of new stuff to read. It should be ready somewhere this week, but no precise date.
Plus, I thought this blog can use a bit more vitriol.
So, brief backstory. I am somewhat active in the Worm fandom. In particular, I read fanfic discussion threads on two forums. Recently, an idea of making a crossover between Worm and Cape High series was brought up. Not being familiar with the latter, I’ve looked into it. The premise caught my attention, so I… ah… acquired first four books and read the first and the better part of the second (they are really short, pretty sure Animorphs are thicker than them).
Never before have I appreciated Wildbow’s writing so much. Dead Nyarlathotep, do those books suck. I’ve read fanfics that were better than this schlock, and I’m not talking about rare gems where it’s clear the author can write professionally but just doesn’t want to take it beyond a hobby, I’m talking an average fic from the Pit here.
So, let’s start with the premise. Our main characters are Zoe and Sunny, twins with superpowers living in a foster home. Zoe can control electronic devices mentally and should have a knack for technology in general, while Sunny has plant powers. They both suck at it, though, not knowing how to control their abilities, so Zoe blows up electronics around her, while Sunny gets plants crawling on his legs.
Their mother has mysteriously disappeared. They thought she was an ordinary person, but in truth she was a superhero with elemental powers. Their father is a supervillain who was locked in prison for all of their life. They found out about his existence only after seeing his picture in class and noticing he has the same stripe of white hair as them.
They write a email to “the Hall,” a superhero organization, informing them of their power and asking for advice, but there seem to be no response. Instead, they are contacted by Maximum, a teenager supervillain bent on getting him into his team. They don’t really like the idea, but Maximum is watching over them, and they don’t know how to avoid him. He goes as far as transferring into their school under a false identity.
Plus, he tells them that superheroes and supervillains thing is basically a cops and robbers game: as long as you don’t cross certain lines, even as a villain you would be allowed to run around mostly freely and maintain relationships with heroes since there are only so many people with powers, they tend to be alienated from the rest of the world and like to keep company with each other. That seems to be confirmed by Trent, a son of superheroes who has powers of his own as well. He just happened to attend the same school as the twins. He’s at odds with Maximum, but they do keep things civil.
The Hall, however, is actually aware of the twins. More, they release twins’ father, Nico, and, as a part of his parole, make him the principal of the newly established school for people with powers, where he would teach them the lines they shouldn’t cross and organize their training so they could get the most out of their powers. He is granted custody over the twins, they move in with him near the new school, Maximum and Trent are going to attend too, so they all wait for its grand opening. The end.
No, seriously, that’s the first book. I omitted a few details, but that’s basically the plot. Despite the series being called Cape High, the school isn’t even built until halfway through the second book.
But fine, the author might need some space to develop the characters before entangling them with the main conflict, right? Well, about that… the pacing of the book is really odd. Some parts of it, like the building of the eponymous school, move really slow, while others, like introduction of the twins to their father, moving in with him and getting used to him are resolved almost faster than they are introduced. I mean, both Nico and Zoe state that they don’t know each other and have no idea how to react to the situation. Right before Nico is released Zoe admits that she was interested in him only as a fantasy scenario of getting out of the foster home. A chapter later they goof around, joke and snark at each other as if they were together their whole life. No conflict, no character development, no character reveal, either.
Speaking of foster home, I have no idea if it was good or bad. Twins are unhappy with it, but when they move out, they have that tearful farewell with their foster mother which would mean a lot more if she didn’t have exactly two scenes to her name, in one of which she barely spoke anything. So, did the twins just miss their mother and didn’t want to accept the replacement? Was the foster mother well-meaning but unable to provide them the level of attention they needed? Were there actual problems the twins glossed over because it’s all in the past now? No clue.
And that’s how everything goes in this book: issues are brought up to be resolved next chapter, no tension building, no showing, just tell tell tell and endless teasing with stuff that could have been decent if it were given a room to grow.
In line of that, I have no fucking clue why the book even bothered with the first half about the twins and those two other guys dicking around in a normal school. It doesn’t actually go anywhere, and it just stretches plausibility with Maximum being able to transfer within one day and Trent just happening to be there. They could have all meet in the superschool just fine, so why is it even here?
Same with Nico being imprisoned, to a somewhat lesser extent. All possible tension with him is resolved so quickly, I wonder if the twins would be any different being raised by him. Well, I guess it does give them a reason to be clueless about cape society and for Jack to exist.
Oh, right, Jack. He is the source of the main “conflict” in the book. He is another kid in the foster home, apparently quite a delinquent and a bully. He fancies Zoe, but is always mean and insulting to her, and when she hooks up with Maximum (I’ll get to it in a moment) and he figures out they both have superpowers, he runs away to get powers on his own because apparently he was scouted earlier by a mysterious organization which grants powers to chosen victims. Naturally, they all come out wrong, so he returns later with swirls of metal growing on his body, shredding his innards. He also had metal manipulation powers and caused some destruction with them, though he was quickly stopped.
Also, the organization has the twins’ mother unconscious and used for some sort of experiments as well as Nega-Nico (not actual name, as no name is given so far, but it should be) who makes the world warp around him into a red-tinted nightmare with the Grail in place of the sun. He is childlike in personality and doesn’t seem to realize what he’s doing, following the lead of Star, a woman running the show.
And that’s cool! That’s what I read superhero stories for! A sinister organization with shady goals, vast power and complete disregard to the concept of God’s domain. Oh, and a bunch of people here to stop them, almost forgot about them.
Fun fact: there are exactly four scenes devoted to Jack’s subplot with the sinister organization. Four very short scenes squeezed between fluffy stuff about sloppy teenage make-outs.
Look, I get it, it’s superhero+high school shenanigans, I didn’t expect high stakes intense action going there. But for fuck’s sake, you have a subplot about a sinister organization creating ungodly abominations. Use it. Cut the first half of the book and write about Evil, Inc.
Honestly, the whole thing reads like a certain type of fanfic. You see, fanfics are often rushed at the beginning because many authors are not interested in constructing a believable narrative leading to the desired result or exploring conflicts that naturally arise from the premise. They just have a concept in mind, like Harry Potter being raised by Einzberns and getting to Hogwarts after fighting in the Holy Grail War (no, seriously, it’s a thing), and run towards it, uncaring of how much dirty footsteps they leave on readers’ SoD.
A lot of fanfic writers are also not very interested in conflicts in general and just write endless fluff and empty banter between their favorite characters, only occasionally remembering bad guys exist and bringing them in for a scene or two, usually to provoke a desired emotional reaction in one of their favorite characters so another character can comfort them or break up or what have you.
And that’s what seems to be going on here. Like, I can easily imagine the “original” book on which SVD is based, in which Zoe and Sunny run away, experiment with their powers on their own with some tragic results, get labeled villains and are forced to fight heroes, then their father escapes prison once he learns about their existence, finds them and takes them in, but, being a villain, he’s not exactly a nice person, and he pushes them further on a dark path, etc.
And at the end of the first book (considerably longer than the one I read) they would be found, mostly cleared of charges and admitted into the school for superheroes, but now they have a grim past and have to adjust to the peaceful life, and they are also watched with suspicion and aren’t exactly well-liked by the crowd, so when a new villain, Maximum, appears and makes them an offer to join him, it’s tempting, even though he’s a douchebag.
Instead, the fanfic writer decides Maximum finds them first and delays them enough to skip over all that drama, and also their father is actually nice and didn’t do anything too bad, and Trent is also here because his school wasn’t specified in the source material, etc. But the author remembers timeline of the original, so the school for people with powers is not ready yet.
Only there isn’t any original, the book just sucks.
So, fine, no sinister organizations for me. What do we have instead? We have romance. With a bad boy. Who Zoe thinks may kill her if she doesn’t go along with his demands. She finds him cute, though, so everything is fine! Look at my avatar! This is my FINE face!
But, of course, the train of misogyny can’t stop there! It has no brakes! For, you see, we soon learn that Maximum should not, under any circumstances, break Zoe’s heart. Why? Well, because she may fry electronics across the city in a fit of anger. Because women are so emotional, right? I would note that no similar comment was made about Sunny, despite him having power over earth itself, in addition to plants.
In act, merely thinking about Maximum fancying another girl causes Zoe to fry stoplights, nearly causing a major accident, and Maximum is the one averting it.
Afterwards he complains to his father, the leader of the Hall, about Zoe giving him mixed signals and being confusing. I don’t know, dumbass, maybe that’s because a few days ago she was convinced you’d kill her. Or maybe that’s because she hooked up with you mostly because you are hot and harassed her into giving in and you two don’t actually have much in common as far as I can tell (though granted, I can’t tell much about the characters) and she started to realize it. Or maybe it’s because she nearly killed a bunch of people, so getting into relationships is not a good idea until she learns to control her powers.
His father has a different answer, though. Specifically, he says her behavior is normal for a teenage girl, you know, that mystical creature that is so hard to understand for a rational man.
Ugh, at least it’s established that his wife ran away the first chance she’s got. It’s not because he’s an asshole, though, it’s because relationships between “supers” and “norms” (book’s terms) tend to not work out in this world.
And yeah, OK, having powers can be alienating, and people aren’t going to understand your unique problems. Neither they would be necessary good at dealing with superpowered toddlers. Fair enough. It goes further than that, however.
You see, that thing about battles between superheroes and supervillains being mostly for show? How supervillains don’t cross certain lines, like doing something that may actually kill “norms” or using working weapon of mass destruction? Yeah, “supers” know about all that jazz. “Norms” seem to be unaware and treating the whole thing seriously, including threats made by supervillains.
In other words, we have a little private club of absurdly powerful people jerking around the general population for the sake of their own entertainment.
Look, heroes and villains being buddies is an amusing premise for a light fluffy novel. I was looking forward to it. I was expecting playful rivalries and hammy monologues from both sides and the general public being in on it, treating “supers” as celebrities and interviewing villains about their next dastardly plots. Instead, there is this really uncomfortable sharp divide between “supers” and “norms,” with everyone telling the twins how they shouldn’t associate with the “norms” too much since the “norms” would never be a part of their world.
Oh, and also Zoe breaks the fourth wall in her narration, addressing the reader directly and openly saying she broke the fourth wall. It’s not a consistent thing. She does it once or twice, and then the narration continues as normal.
In conclusion, fuck this book. I think I hate it more than The Masquerade. The Masquerade at least was honest about being a masturbatory fanfic and didn’t attempt to be anything more than that. This book seems like it has some good potential, but it’s completely obliterated by its various issues, endless pointless fluff with zero conflict or character development being the prime one.