Before I say anything else, I’m just going to oooh and aaah over this GORGEOUS cover for awhile…
Danny Tozer is 15 years old and transgender. But no ones knows. Her family life centres around a father determined to make a man of her, and she has endured a lifetime of bullying already from the kids at school that see her as an easy target. But one day, as she crouches behind a concrete barrier outside the mall to secretly paint her toenails, the world’s greatest superhero fights an epic battle right in front of her and dies. And in keeping with tradition, his mantle of power transfers to the witness and transforms her into her true self. A gorgeous girl. But with superpowers. And she is not going back, no matter what.
Whether she likes it or not, Danny is the only one that can defeat the supervillain that killed Dreadnought. But in order to do so, she has to accept that she is worthy of the mantle, worthy of the respect. And that might be harder to do than saving the world.
This is Danny’s origin story. As with most superhero origin stories, Danny comes of age in a world that wants to deny her existence, and even deny her the right to be herself and to have her powers. As a transgender queer girl, her coming of age is particularly difficult. Her parents deny her existence, her father hurling abuse while her mother insists that she wants her son back. Fellow superheroes are split on her right to become Dreadnought, with some supportive, and some angered by her insistence on being defined by her correct gender. Her best friend hurls insults when she refuses to date him and fractures their relationship irreparably.
I do think that Danny is the most fleshed out character in the novel, and rightly so. She is self-aware before her magical transition, and her growth is steady throughout the novel. She still calls herself trans after the world sees her as a girl, and she is proud of her identity. I like that even after becoming the world’s most powerful superhero, she still is afraid of falling behind in school. (Oh, if only my children were a 10th as responsible, and without superpowers…) I found her fear incredibly heartbreaking and realistic, her fear of her parents and the hold they have over her, her fear of accepting the mantle of Dreadnought, her fear of not being good enough.
But the supporting characters are a bit flat in places, and I am hoping that, as this is the first book in a series, they will become more rounded as the series continues. With the exception of Calamity and Doc Impossible, the other superheroes are a bit two-dimensional. Both Calamity, who is so important to Danny (please let them get together! Please!), and Doc Impossible develop nicely as the story progresses, and although I had suspicions that something wasn’t on the up and up with the Doc, I had NO idea of the twist at the end. This was NOT what I was expecting!
Danny’s parents are, sadly, what they appear to be. And even though Danny has a certain amount of understanding and love for her mother and her situation, and I understand where it comes from, in the end, she does not choose her daughter and loses my sympathy.
The pace of the novel builds through the first half, setting up an explosive conclusion that is not only highlighted by the hero/villain climax, but also Danny’s confrontation with her parents. It isn’t it all rainbows and sunshine and bench-pressing rail cars, however; Danny’s freedom comes at great personal cost.
The world building in this novel isn’t front and centre, but rather steadily in the background, offering an incredible framework for the story to weave through. It is our world, but our world with superheroes who are tasked to keep us safe, our world where the government is still in charge, our world where politics still cover everything, from the ranks of the superheroes to the subtle class differences of those that have some abilities, to the normal people who just go about their daily lives.
Through the novel is a subtle humour with a message underneath. When Danny becomes her true self, that happens to be a girl with the looks and proportions of an airbrushed underwear model. Because that is what society has told her how a girl should look. But the messages are delivered with a nice wit and are not preachy.
The main character is brilliant. The world building is fabulous. The pacing is perfect. But another enemy approaches, and it will be the most terrifying one the world has ever faced.
This is a novel that anyone can read, it has humour, pain, strength, conflict, and triumph. And it is the first in a trilogy, so the love can only continue.
Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) was published January 24th, 2017 by Diversion Publishing.