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 Wearing the Cape, a superhero story by Marion G. Harmon which I finished reading yesterday.
Characters: Eighteen-year-old Hope Corrigan, a.k.a superheroine Astra, daughter of a well-to-do Chicago family, tells her story of gaining super powers and the adventures that follow.
Marion provides a bit of description for Hope. Not much, but enough to give readers something to work with. Here she is flying away moments after the horrendous terrorist attack in which she experiences the “breakthrough” of gaining super powers:
Atlas and I flew out over the Loop and descended on Grant Park. I had to be the most improbable breakthrough he’d ever seen. I hadn’t grown an inch since my débutante ball and was always being told I could use a milkshake. A soon-to-be U of C first year, I still looked—when not covered in grime—like an underdeveloped teenage Tinkerbell. Well, now I could fly like Tink, but it had nothing to do with thinking happy thoughts.
Many of his other characters — and there’s a world’s worth of colorful cast, both super and non-super — get the same treatment. Here’s superheroine Chakra whose mysterious powers are psychic:
Chakra sat next to Blackstone, dressed like a vaguely Hindu tribal dancer in a midriff-baring red vest and skirt loaded down with lots of gold jewelry. Beneath lustrous auburn curls, her brown eyes regarded me warmly.
Again, just enough description to get by — for me, that is. I wouldn’t have minded more, but many, authors and readers alike, don’t share my views.
Marion does a nice job on his characters’ personalities. He gives them clear traits and keeps them consistent throughout the novel. However, I thought he could have taken his characters to the next level by including some inconsistent behavior, especially with Hope.
She seems like a marvelously self-controlled and mature young woman for a teenager. Overall, Marion’s characters are vivid and realistic, with just enough detail to get by — quite an accomplishment, imho, considering their large numbers and fantastic circumstances.
Overall, great job with the characters.
Plot: Just out of high school, Hope Corrigan gets Supergirl-like powers and joins local super team The Chicago Sentinels, headed by the Superman-like Atlas. She takes the name Astra and as Atlas’s sidekick, helps the Sentinels face an increasingly difficult series of challenges. Meanwhile, Hope makes new friends, struggles to maintain old relationships, and works to master her new powers.
I enjoyed the intricate twists and turns of of Marion’s plotting. He included just enough formula to keep the story comforting and familiar, but with edgy, imaginative, and well-thought-out takes all the way through.
Setting: Largely set in Chicago, the story also visits Los Angeles, where the Sentinels help with recovery efforts after a massive earthquake. Oh Sentinels, where were you during Katrina and Sandy?
Marion does a fine job with settings, whether disaster aftermath or the interior of the “The Dome,” the Sentinels’ HQ:
The doors opened into an underground lobby, all white marble and columns, with smart-panels and sliding doors that made it look like someone had thrown Caesar’s Palace and the USS Enterprise into a blender. Friezes depicting the Sentinels battling supervillains decorated the walls, and despite everything I laughed and felt a little better. I’d had a good art history teacher, and the frieze of Atlas fighting Aftershock copied the classic pose of Hercules vs. the Hydra.
What I thought could’ve been done better: If Wearing the Cape has a single weakness, it’s the characters, and that only in relation to everything else. On the 1-10 scale, EVERYTHING in this book rates a solid 10, except for the characters. They lag behind at a 9 or 9.5. Or 9.75.
Seriously, the characters, bad guys and good guys, super and non-super — all well-drawn, believable and consistent. And that’s my only note for this section — too consistent. In every situation, the characters are true-to-form. They don’t disappoint. And they need to.
Sure they make mistakes. But those mistakes come from trying to do the right thing. How about a little selfishness? How about a little uncontrolled emotion? Laughter that suddenly turns into sobbing, or vice-versa.
I did spot one very refreshing instance of this ~ Riptide, a minor super-villain, caught helping out (not helping himself) in the aftermath of the L.A. quake. Yeah! Just so good.
Marion’s characters have everything except, as far as I could tell, the unpredictability factor. Add that in, and I think we’re talking close to perfect.
What I thought was good: Let’s start with the basics: Great cover, flawless editing for grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation.
Wearing the Cape is exceedingly well-structured. Astra faces ever-more difficult challenges as part of the team, building up to a truly apocalyptic superheroes-super-villains battle, and then, finally, a climactic challenge Astra must face alone.
Marion bolsters the narrative’s credibility by starting each chapter with a quote from fictional scholarly works, media accounts, or memoirs about superheroes, and about the “Event” which first gave rise to the ability of some people to spontaneously generate super powers in life-threatening situations:
On August 18th, for 3.2 seconds, every human being simultaneously experienced total sensory deprivation—no sight, hearing, or physical sensation. A small percentage of individuals did later claim to have heard something, what one person described as “the sound of God striking a cosmic tuning fork.” However, when people remember the Event, what they most remember is not the sensory blackout or the worldwide power failure that came with it, but what happened next. They remember where they were when the superhumans appeared.
Prof. Charles Gibbons, The New Heroic Age
Each of these accounts foreshadows — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly — what the following chapter has in store.
I loved the specific nature of Astra’s powers, which the Sentinel’s physician, Dr. Beth quantified for her when she first joined:
Mom had enrolled me in a self-defense course when I turned sixteen, but small is small; the best I could reasonably do in a real fight was kick the Bad Guy in the knee and run like hell while he hopped on the other leg. Now?
I could kill a man with my finger.
My maximum lift without doing Bad Things to myself was just over ten tons. To put that into perspective, Dr. Beth had thoughtfully included a list. A business jet weighed nearly nine tons, a loaded semi-truck about ten. I couldn’t pick up a tank, but I could easily flip one over like a turtle on its back.
Punching someone, that universal superhero activity? My punch could shatter bones, pulp internal organs, mess a man up something awful. (Imagine an Olympic weight lifter swinging a ten-pound sledge hammer. Yuck.) Putting serious effort behind it, I could hit like an anti-tank missile.
How tough was I? I laughed at civilian weapons, but the hypothetical tank he kept comparing me to could hurt me. A lot. Tough all the way through, unlike the tank I could heal ten times as fast as a normal person (and I wanted to know how he figured that one out).
As for flying, based on the flying pushes he made me do, Dr. Beth clocked me at a hypothetical 632 mph—though he cautioned that turbulence would make control difficult at that speed. So I could fly faster than commercial jets but not military jets.
He’d attached a note to the end of the file: speak to military recruiters. Apparently, being in the top ten percent of Atlas-types meant I could earn twenty times the salary of a soldier of the same grade. No wonder: I’d been weaponized.
My review is running long here, so I won’t go into the glorious fight scenes — especially the catastrophic struggle between heroes and villains in the ruins of earthquake-ravaged Los Angeles. But I don’t use the word “glorious” here lightly.
Marion’s writing is clear, active, colorful and muscular. And he makes it look easy and conversational.
Overall: Wearing the Cape is a fascinating read on many levels. We see Astra evolve from sidekick to superhero. We get a credible version of how superheroes and super-villains might actually work in reality; their infrastructure, their legalities, their moral and ethical issues.
While the characters might have had a touch or touch more of inconsistency and unpredictability, they are still colorful, believable and emotionally accessible.
As a superhero action-adventure epic, Wearing the Cape meets and exceeds expectation, is a full and unqualified success, and I’ve already bought the sequels.
Good job, Marion!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!