That said, here is my honest opinion of H.E.R.O. Metamorphosis by Kevin Rau, a superhero thriller which I finished reading earlier this week.
Characters: The novel follows three friends, Lance, Rael and Stephanie as they first gain, come to terms with, and use super-abilities as classic costumed superheroes. Alas, the same strange meteor shower that grants our trio their wonderful powers also changes others into grotesque mutants, also with super-abilities, and a tendency for badness. Kevin does a nice job showing who his protagonists are with all three sides of the character triangle — what they do, what they say, what they look like.
In perhaps a nod to Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four, our heroes gain powers that reflect their personas. Lance, an all-American boy-scoutish, boy-next-door type, already powerfully built, gains even more size and muscles, invulnerability to conventional weapons and strength of a magnitude that lets him juggle cars, lift locomotives and jump a half-mile or more.
Martial artist and good-hearted “bad boy” Rael gains astonishing cat-like speed and reflexes, ability to see in the dark and strength that lets him at least lift a car, if not juggle several. And claws — he’s able to extrude and retract fearsome claws, sharp and strong enough to rend concrete, from his fingers.
Flirty, good-humored girl-next-door, and highly attractive Stephanie gains true flight, mind-reading, and a strange pheromone power that lets her influence peoples’ state of mind through their sense of smell. Her mind-reading power, in particular, comes with a steep price which Stephanie hadn’t yet resolved by book’s end.
She also gets enhanced strength, making her more powerful than several men. All three get accelerated healing ability.
As the book opens, Lance, Rael and Stephanie are just the latest to be affected by the unpredictable meteor showers. In fact, Lance is the son of a super-mom with powers similar to his. An organization called H.E.R.O. (Homeland Extraordinary Response Organization) has grown up to take care of its members’ admin needs, like insurance, costuming and income, in order to free the heroes to do their good work.
Kevin introduces other H.E.R.O. members, like electrically powered Hellshock, and lots of well-drawn supporting cast — mainly the media, medical and emergency-response personnel you’d expect to be involved in events requiring the intervention of superheroes.
There are also some wicked super-mutant villains, verging on truly scary, which our trio goes after — but even this wonderful action takes a back seat to the main action of Lance, Rael and Stephanie learning to cope with being superheroes.
Plot: The city is in chaos after the most recent meteor shower creates a new batch of superheroes and mutants. In the great tradition of heroes, Lance, Rael and Stephanie plunge into the fray to try to help before they have even fully recovered from or understood their own traumatic metamorphosis into superheroes.
As the dust settles from this initial action, a mutant called “Shrinker,” who has the ability to shrink people to 6 inches in size, goes on a recruiting drive for her evil mutant army. She and her horrible crew, including the six-limbed Kralgon (two of his four arms end with sword-blades), who has strength and invulnerability matching Lance’s, kidnap and starve newly created mutants. They also kidnap innocent civilians to feed to the hungry mutants to turn the mutants irrevocably to evil. Yow!
Setting: The action takes place in various locations of the fictional “Metrocity.” Hospital, apartments, warehouse districts, university campus, and other typical urban locations form a well-written, if somewhat generic non-distracting backdrop.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Of our three protagonists, Stephanie has the most complicated powers. Kevin has thought out her mind-reading ability in terrific detail. He has her explain it very well. The problem is that Stephanie winds up having to explain how her mind-reading powers work too many times, to where it gets redundant and slows down the action of the story.
By the time Stephanie explains to her college professors about the “TV screens” that fill her field of vision when she’s reading minds, readers have already been exposed. To his credit, Kevin writes it well, and the professors’ thoughts on what Stephanie tells them make for good reading. Too much explanation, though, slows down this otherwise swiftly moving narrative — especially explanation of the same thing for the second or third time.
Lance’s character could possibly use a bit more nuance. Personally, I love the boy-scout hero who never lets anyone see his doubts, and is a shining example of do-gooderism. That’s Lance. But letting readers in on his inner-most fears — “I wanted these powers all my life, now that I’ve got them, do I really have what it takes? The stakes are so high — what if I fail?”
No one else has to know Lance feels this way sometimes — just us readers.
The language could’ve been dried out a little, here and there. For instance in this description of the evil mutants’ warehouse hideout:
“To the far left were metal racks made to hold pallets. They were empty at this time.” Better: “To the far left were metal racks for pallets. They were empty.” Better still, since this is from Rael’s point of view as he sneaks into the warehouse, would be making the description active voice — “Rael spied metal racks at far left, empty of pallets.”
As with almost every book, indie or otherwise, there are a few typos. For instance, at H.E.R.O. headquarters, “Statues lines the ways.” Should be “lined” obviously. These errors are few, and didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book.
What I thought was good: There’s so much good about H.E.R.O. Metamorphosis I hardly know where to start. First, I loved the ambitious scope of the book. Kevin created a solid well-thought-out foundation for a superhero saga that can go indefinitely. At the same time, he’s written a focused story centering on three well-drawn protagonists. Their metamorphosis, introducing and establishing H.E.R.O., creating the villains and their horrible plot and much more — that’s a lot of jobs for one novel. Kevin carries it off like a pro.
I liked Kevin’s writing style, too — smooth, detailed, informal, and for the most part with plenty of vivid verbs and active voice. Here’s Lance to the rescue:
Power rippled through Lance’s system like wildfire. A yellow aura surrounded him, fumes came through his costume and the bright light lit up the red goggles from the inside. He looked back at the terrified people and ran to the nearest cage of people intended for food. He grabbed two of the bars and ripped one off the cage.
Like any self-respecting superhero tale, H.E.R.O. Metamorphosis has plenty of slam-bam action. Despite their powers, Kevin doesn’t hesitate to let his protagonists get smacked around “six ways from Sunday,” as my friends and I used to say when we were kids.
I also enjoyed the way Kevin varied point-of-view throughout the story. Lance, Rael and Stephanie each tell parts of the story as they see it in first-person narratives. Nothing like first-person to help readers identify with characters. Kevin includes chapters written in third person as well, which helps to tie the individual accounts together.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? H.E.R.O. Metamorphosis is an engaging super-powered romp that delivers action, humor, sex appeal, and a thoughtful look at how superheroes might well function in reality. I had a great time hanging with Lance, Rael and Stephanie. If you like superhero lit, H.E.R.O. Metamorphosis needs to be on your Kindle.
Good job Kevin!
Check out my own novel American Goddesses to see whether I live up to my own literary critiques.