Emily Devenport really isn't afraid to go there. Where's there? Oh, boy, are you in for something!
In some ways, this fifth novel continues naturally from the previous four. Does it have a young female lead? Oh, yes. Does she have a burning need to escape? Absolutely. Is she raped early on in the story? Well no, but others are, so that continues to be a theme too. Where it diverges from those prior books is in the approach, which is a completely new one. We're not in the future any more where technology can do far more than it can today, like take us to other planets and rejuvenate us so that we look a fraction of our real ages. Here, that's done by magic.
Well, it's not really magic but it might as well be because the author gives us precious little explanation of why a trio of adults have what amounts to superpowers and why these Three are supervising half a dozen kids who all also have superpowers. There's a backstory there, I'm sure, but it's not inside the covers of this book. All we get is the revelation through flashback that the Three are older than they appear. The kids, it would seem, are not.
Our lead is Sally, who's one of those kids. She's fourteen but mature and caring for her age. She sees her job as protecting the other five kids from the Three, because, at some point, they will have fulfilled their purpose and will become disposable. She even knows how they plan to do it. They'll get out of the bus, leaving the kids on board, and then drive it, using only the power of their minds, off the rim of the Grand Canyon. What must that surety do to a fourteen-year-old girl?
I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to highlight that this doesn't happen for a hundred pages, so there's a lot of suspense behind the character-building while we and the kids wait for that to happen and Sally tries to figure out a way to stop it without actually thinking about it, because the Three can and do read their minds. We also know that other kids have been killed already, so there's no guarantee that all or even any of these ones will be alive when we get there. We expect Sally to last, of course, but the author is twisted enough to pull a 'Psycho' and bump her off too, so we can't be sure. All bets are off in Emily Devenport novels.
While we're learning why we should root for the kids against the Three, we learn about their powers, not just what they can do but what they're willing to do and there's a massive difference there. I could never grasp how Superman could be so naïve as to dedicate his life to truth, justice and the American way, especially given what he was capable of. I bought into Doc Manhattan in 'Watchmen' much more, someone who begins that way but soon gets cynical (the Vietnam war would do that to you) and decides to spend his life isolating new particles and getting away from it all on Mars. If you could truly do anything, what would you do?
And that's the real question here. After all, if you're superhuman, why bother with the petty humans and their drama? Devenport, in her introduction, explains that this book grew out of personal pain because someone she knew was murdered, along with her family, and that wasn't an act she could understand. How could someone do that to another human being? Clearly pondering that subject led her to see superpowers the way that some see alcohol, as something that brings out who people really are. You might be an obnoxious drunk or a weepy drunk or a horny drunk. Does that mean that you'd be an obnoxious or weepy or horny superhero? How would that work out?
Well, the Three, presumably the oldest people on our planet with such immense powers, aren't nice people and Ted is particularly repulsive. We learn in flashback that he and Marc raped a lesbian couple, just because, using their powers to make it last and even to make the women enjoy it, even as they knew they didn't. It's brutal and repellent, but hey, if you're a bad person and you gain the power to make everyone else do what you want them to do, then it's not a particularly unlikely extrapolation. Just look at the teen comedies of the eighties; if you're sixteen years old, all you think about is boobs. Make yourself invisible and visit the girls' locker room. If your power is telekinesis, you can remove girls' bras from afar. Well, Ted's far older than sixteen and his tastes have matured. He can rape girls with his mind and enjoy their suffering without even lifting a finger.
Of course, if you're not the only one with superpowers, then you have to defend yourself against those who do, especially Ted, and that adds another level. Sally has created a secret mind, like a sandbox or a virtual machine, so that she think without the people who can read her mind knowing that she's thinking, but they all have their shields. On the flipside of that, a group of people with superpowers can help each other out. The kids eat anything they like and then Joey cleans their systems with his mind, removing the cholesterol and balancing their vitamins to their needs. Ralph plays operas and symphonies in his head and lets the others listen in. The possibilities are endless.
While we ponder on these possibilities, Devenport has a goal for her characters to follow. The Three aim to find a gate that will let them into Olympus, so that they can ascend to godhood. Though she doesn't know how, Sally seems to be able to provide that and those first hundred pages are spent finding it. After that, your interpretation of what happens would be much appreciated because I can read it all a few different ways and I'm not sure that I'm entirely or even partially right. The author goes much deeper with this novel than her previous ones.
The question I can't answer is whether that makes this a better book. Once again, she hooked me quickly and kept me throughout. I adore the way she tells completely different stories to anyone else. If you wrote a detailed synopsis for a novel and gave it to a hundred writers, you would only get a few different stories out of that. But if one of those hundred was Emily Devenport, I would put money on her conjuring up something utterly unique that none of the others would have even approached. I enjoyed this book and there's some real magic here, like in one scene with Ralph late on in the book, which I grokked absolutely (it's no spoiler to provide a single line of dialogue for those who have read the book: 'That's what we lost'), but, while I think I figured out where she was going before she got there, I'm not sure where she really ended up.
For now, I'm admiring this book immensely but not liking it quite as much. I certainly prefer 'Scorpianne' and 'EggHeads' at this point, but I can guarantee I'll return to this in a year or two and revisit it with a fresh mind. I'll also chat with the author about it at CoKoCon this year, as I'm very happy that she's our Local Author GoH.
Next up, 'GodHeads', assuming it arrives in time for next month's deadline. It's a sequel to 'EggHeads' and it's the last novel Emily Devenport wrote under her own name until this year's 'Medusa Uploaded', because, after it, she chose to publish longer books under pseudonyms instead. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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