Capes, Calamities and Cry-Fests – Charley R. Reviews Marion G. Harmon’s “Wearing The Cape”.

One of the ways we are looking to improve the lot of our YA authors is to get their books out to reviewers who happen to be part of that reading group.  So with two teen authors on the MWi blogging schedule it was inevtable they’d be among the first to savour the delights of our YA offerings in exchange for some honest reviews.

I’m using my snakebite excuse to skip a proper intro again (Enjoy it while you can – I’ll be back to normal by the weekend!) so I’m just going to say,

Here’s Charley:

 

Capes, Calamities and Cry-Fests 

Charley R. reviews Marion G. Harmon’s

Wearing the Cape.

It took me a while to get my grubby wee paws on it but, thanks to the lovely Mark and his charitable desire to keep me from going mad by providing me with deliciously devourable literary material, I found myself curled up on my bed with the rain pounding on my windowsill on a rainy afternoon, happily ensconced in a very good book.

This book was Wearing the Cape, and I am not overdramatizing when I say it is probably one of the best Young Adult books I have had the fortune to read this year. For a start, it manages to put a wonderfully original spin on one of the oldest archetypes in the history of storylines – superheroes, in all their cape-swishing glory. Harmon has created a new, exciting, yet utterly believable world where superhuman abilities are as usual as getting up to brush your teeth in the morning. Not only that, but he manages to make sense of some of the stranger superhero customs – particularly those involving skimpy-looking outfits, which I found exceedingly amusing. Hey, even if you can flip tanks, you still want to look pretty at a party, right?
Even better is that there’s not an info-dump in sight – all the information is channelled gradually to the reader through the narrative. Though this leaves a couple of moments of confusion in the first chapter or so, it all comes together very smoothly in a short space of time, giving us the chance to focus on the plot, rather than trying to work out what the fruitcake an e-pad might be.

Speaking of the plot – Marvel, eat your heart out. Contrary to my initial worries of finding the over-ploughed plot of “take out big villain who wants to rule / destroy / redecorate the world for his own evil gains, then fly off into the sunset”, Wearing the Cape is actually very good plot-wise. It’s pacy and keeps going at a decent rate, but never compromises itself by moving too quickly and losing any of its sleek, smart humour. At the same time, it doesn’t drag too long on the philosophical or reflective moments – which are rather crucial in a story involving the supposed deaths of thousands in horrific disasters. What’s more, it’s not afraid to tell us that superheroes in the real world wouldn’t be half as perfect as it is in the comics. These heroes need attorneys, police statements, truly gruelling training, and they’re all more than aware of the necessity of good media coverage. My only nitpick with this realism is that, being set in America, there are a few phrases and customs that my poor British brain couldn’t quite comprehend.

And the plot’s not a single-direction Dobbin-the-rocking-horse affair either! The delicious twists, while I can’t say much about them without giving away huge spoilers, while not being mind-blowing, were certainly revelatory enough to make me want to happy-dance, gasp, cry and annihilate my pillow at regular intervals. Sometimes more than one at the same time. For such a brisk, well-to-do story, there are some surprisingly tragic happenings. Suffice to say, Harmon is an author who’s not afraid to show that even superheroes can suffer just like the rest of us.

However, as fantastic as this realism is, it’s the characters that, for me, made the story the little wonder it is. Our narrator, Astra, is one of the rare female characters who can pull off being a hero AND a convincing teenage girl without driving us to label her a wimpy cop-out or an overpowered (dare I say it…) Mary Sue. Astra is a very well-constructed character; she’s tough, she’s opinionated, she’ll stand up for what she believes in, but at the same time she has all the familiar insecurities of a real young woman, both romantic, appearance and esteem-related. As someone of the same gender and age-range as Astra, I found myself liking her simply because, for once, she was both someone to admire, and someone relatable – a breath of fresh air in a world of “average teenage girls” who are anything but.

And she’s not the only dazzling personality in the lineup – our “leading man” Atlas shines as a world-weary icon who, despite his “Mr Perfect” image, is beginning to wear down and crack after years of stressful crime-fighting, and the delightfully creepy and caustic Artemis is intriguing in the highest sense of the word. Even the minor characters have their own distinctive personalities, and I found myself liking them almost as much as the leads (I was head over heels for Blackstone in seconds, and still can’t decide whether I’d rather strangle or tackle-hug the arrogant but hilarious Seven). And, the cherry on the cake, we have … a complex villain! Le gasp! And, even better, the author doesn’t set us a shove-it-up-your-nose-because-I-think-you’re-a-thicko, he’s-a-bad-guy-so-you-must-hate-him situation either! In fact, I got rather attached to the Teatime Anarchist – though it was somewhat unnerved when I started to imagine him speaking with a British accent a-la-Queen-Liz.

And one last thing – there’s a cameo mention of one of my favourite bands in the whole entire world at The Fortress. I squee-d. All over the floor. Thank you, Marion G Harmon. You are awesome.

But enough of my sycophantic blithering: go forth and buy thyself a fantastic read! Realistic, heart-breaking, hilarious, thoughtful and stunningly crafted, Wearing the Cape should be on everyone’s reading list this Christmas.

As you can see, the British education system continues to produce illiterate, monosyllabic teenagers who can’t string a sentence together to save their lives.  🙂

But Charley R. doesn’t just write great reviews. She also writes great fiction. Not only is Charley, along with Miriam, co-writing with us on our new YA series St. Mallory’s, but she also has a short story in Volume 2 of the Saffina Desforges Presents anthology series, which might, if I can muster the finger power in one hand to get it all sorted, be live on Amazon this weekend. If not, some time next week for sure.

For those seduced by Charley’s homage to Wearing the Cape you’ll be pleased to know the book can be bought from amazon.com here and amazon.co.uk here. And you can find the sequels to Wearing the Cape alongside.

And the only one thing I didn’t agree with Charley on:  I’d never heard of  The Fortress, and am still none the wiser.

If you love superhero stories you need to read this book. If you hate superhero stories you really, really, really need to read this book. I loved it from the moment I first set eyes on it as an embryonic script on a peer review site at the beginning of the year. It’s one of the jewels in the indie-publishing crown.

As a kid it was my ambition to write for Marvel (or DC if  had to settle for second best), and up until this very year I’ve always had a yearning to write a superhero novel of my own some day.

Sadly that lifetime ambition evaporated in haze of shattered dreams when I read Wearing the Cape.

When the competition is this good there’s no point even trying to compete.

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    • Miriam Joy
    • December 14th, 2011

    I really liked that book too. The romance kind of annoyed me though (won’t give any details here so I don’t ruin it for anyone who’ll surely read it after this) … can’t any amazing novels get away without having people fall in love? No? Damn it.

    (Admittedly some of my favourite books are love stories, like Maggie Stiefvater’s “Ballad”. But others aren’t.)

    I’m disappointed however that Spookybeast didn’t mention Artemis at all in that review. She was cool 😀 Also, Charley’s currently in America without internet (or at least she says she’s without internet), so won’t be able to comment at all on this…

    But don’t worry, I’ll stand in and blitz the thing with comments if you want 😀

    • Ahem, Ms Mim. You evidently missed the bit where Charley said “and the delightfully creepy and caustic Artemis is intriguing in the highest sense of the word.”

      I’m afraid love stories are what makes the world go round. Part of the human condition, so inevitably it shall be a feature of most literature, and indeed any artform.

        • Miriam Joy
        • December 14th, 2011

        I evidently did 😉 Well, she deserves more than half a sentence anyway.

        I just … I don’t know. I don’t have any patience with them any more. Which is bad, because the novel I’m editing at the moment is one. Admittedly everyone dies, but still. But meh, I’m finding it hard to write….

  1. A review bursting with such enthusiasm that if I were a teenager who liked books about superheroes, I’d definitely buy this. H’m. Maybe, if it’s as good as Charley says, I’ll buy it anyway!

  2. “As a kid it was my ambition to write for Marvel (or DC if had to settle for second best), and up until this very year I’ve always had a yearning to write a superhero novel of my own some day. Sadly that lifetime ambition evaporated in haze of shattered dreams when I read Wearing the Cape.”

    That is one terrible excuse, Mark. If the vampire genre can include horror, mystery, humor, chick-lit, YA, sci-fi–hell, the only genre I haven’t seen the bloodsuckers take a bite out of yet is western–then there is room for a lot of good stories in the superhero genre. And I’d love to see what Desforges could do with superhero-mystery or superhero-thriller stories. I’ll even let you borrow the Post-Event setting and tell us all what happened in England.

  3. And thanks, Charley, for the great review. It’s always good to hear that your creations are as “real” as you tried to make them. Heroes are easy but people are hard–and getting the tone right for an 18-year old female protagonist…having four younger sisters helped, but still!

  4. I know I’ll be buying Wearing the Cape (and sequels). I’ve got a list a mile long for that Kindle Santa’s bringing me. Thankfully I know exactly how I’ll be funding my book addiction…

    I do wish I could have snuck in a real life meeting with “the Spookybeast” while she was on my side of the pond, but I hope she’s enjoying the warm, and hopefully not so rainy, weather of southern Florida.

    :} Cathryn

  5. What a great review! I love the idea of a “real” superhero, suffering from ordinary human stresses and burnout. Sounds like a great book.

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