Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Blake Northcott’s Vs. Reality, a superhero thriller which I finished reading Wednesday.
Characters: Protagonists Donovan Cole, a mixed-martial arts fighter on a losing streak; and Dia Davenport, a lovely but mysterious young woman, hook up by chance in a ritzy club. Dia, on the run from the frightening “Collectors,” gets Donovan and his sidekick Jens involved with her crew in an epic adventure. Blake brings her characters to life with the “character triangle” ~ she shows us what they say, what they do ~ and what many authors leave out, but I consider important ~ what they look like. Here’s Gary (yes, I picked him because of his name), who owns the gym where Donovan trains and fights. He’s a minor character, but still painted clearly:
Average height with a burly frame, Gary has a round stomach – but the arms of someone who was at one point an elite-level athlete. His grey ‘Gary’s Gym’ t-shirt looks like it hasn’t been washed in a month, and his matching track pants and worn running shoes don’t appear much cleaner.
Blake fills her story with colorful characters, major and minor, good and bad, and shows the color. Note also her use of present tense. That’s something else I liked, but will address later.
Plot: A select few people nationwide including Dia; her younger sister Paige; their brilliant friend Brodie; and, as it turns out, Donovan; can “manifest” superpowers temporarily when triggered by various traumatic events. Alas, the “Collectors” are busy identifying and hunting down these gifted individuals, including Dia and friends.
Once captured, they are not heard from again.
Brodie has created a designer drug called “Muse.” Muse lets people manifest their powers without the traumatic trigger, so he and his drug are of special interest to the Collectors and the Global Liberty Initiative, the shadowy organization they represent.
Until Donovan joined their group, Dia, Paige and Brodie were content to simply evade the Collectors. But when the Collectors capture Donovan’s innocent friend Jens, the group goes on the offensive, sparking a super-powered reality-bending clash of good vs. evil.
Setting: Present-day –2011 actually — New York City is the backdrop for Vs. Reality. But it appears to be an NYC, and a world, a bit different from the one we know, which I found a touch confusing. Here’s an example:
Police no longer patrol the streets to keep them safe — they promote positive action in the community by participating in charity events and fundraisers. And officers now spend more time at New Age meditation classes than the gun range. Which is logical since the police are no longer permitted to carry guns.
Also, a global government called “The World Council” is now in place. It has evidently ended international conflict and gotten rid of tyrants while enabling national sovereignty to stay in place. There’s a reference to a newly democratic China.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Let’s start with the setting. The World Council and the new-age police, while interesting, weren’t integrally connected to the story. In my opinion, having more realistic and effective policemen overcome by the bad guys would make for scarier bad guys and a better story.
Later on, Blake divulges that the World Council is unknowingly part of the bad guys’ plot — but it could just as easily have been the U.N. or the U.S. government. That would advance the plot in the same fashion, but without the distraction of “what’s this World Council all about?”
Keeping things real as possible makes the bending of that reality just that much more terrific.
I mentioned that I liked the use of present tense throughout the story, and I did — except for the places where the narrative lapsed into past tense.
Paige pulls a set of keys from her front pocket and tossed them to Brodie. And later, Brodie finishes his speech. His host ran through the entire back story…
I spotted an error I often make — “alright,” instead of the correct “all right.” A few other typos showed up. For instance, She looks at Paige, closes here eyes for just a moment…
I also thought Blake might’ve done a little more to show growing romantic attraction between Donovan and Dia. They do manage to find their way into bed together, as formula demands. But it seems perfunctory. If there were scenes in the story where Dia starts to realize “Hey I like this guy,” then I missed it. Or Donovan feels tender toward Dia after seeing her do something loving. The story is filled with great characters — they deserve at least a little emotional development.
What I thought was good: Emotional development and a few typos aside, Blake’s purpose, evidently, is to deliver a high-voltage, super-powered action thrill-ride. Blake delivers one hundred percent.
Blake’s use of present tense gives the story an immediacy that’s hard to beat. Her language is muscular and verb-oriented for the most part. Here’s Donovan, newly super-powered after swallowing a blue Muse pill, taking it out on Heinreich, one of the evil Collectors:
He assaults the massive German with a barrage of blistering punches, shattering his orbital bone and snapping the hinge of his jaw. Each fist colliding with his face feels like a baseball bat traveling at a hundred miles per hour. Unable to sustain the barrage, Heinreich crumples and collapses into a blood-soaked mess, half-conscious at Donovan’s feet.
Not allowing him an opportunity to recover, Donovan takes several steps backwards. He runs at his target and kicks him in the side of the skull; a crushing blow that sends him spiraling across the parking lot like a discarded soda can.
If you like action (I do), Vs. Reality has it. Lots of it.
Blake does a great job of addressing the issue of whether or not to use super powers altruistically. Dia is for keeping her head down and using the group’s powers only to protect herself and her friends and family, with a little self-enrichment on the side.
Donovan wants to use the group’s powers to fight and defeat the Global Liberty Initiative, especially after the organization’s evil plan is revealed. Donovan and Dia have a discussion on the issue that I found articulate and insightful.
Here’s Dia unloading on Donovan — love this —
Don’t bullshit me, Cole. You’re not getting warm fuzzies thinking about helping people — you’re getting rock hard because you finally have a taste of real power. You want to get that rush of adrenaline when you clench your fist, grit your teeth and destroy something.
The superpowers our heroes manifest are highly imaginative, too. It’s not just bouncing bullets and super strength. When Dia manifests, for instance, she becomes a golden-haired goddess able to tear holes in reality with her hands, and step through from New York City, for instance, to Oahu, Hawaii — which is one reason the Collectors have so much trouble catching her.
But what grabbed me most of all is Blake’s central premise for the book, which I consider to verge on the profound.
…the fact that the simple laws that bind our universe together are pliable, and can be manipulated by the power of human thought with the right catalyst.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? Blake delivers a rock ’em sock ’em super-powered thrill ride bursting with surprises, imagination and coolness on every page. While there were a few things that made me think “You know, it would’ve been nice if…,” they were minor distractions in the overall scope of this vivid, exciting story.
Good job Blake!