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Monday Musings: No More Heroes? a.k.a. I Saw Batman v Superman …

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The image above is from Kingdom Come, one of the best DC Comics graphic novels out there, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.  It’s a tale that covers both the best and worst, the highest and lowest concepts of the superhero, both as savior and destroyer.  It was written and drawn by people who obviously understood the characters that move the plot and also have a deep respect for what these characters, our modern gods and heroes, mean and represent.

The alien immigrant who uses his uniqueness to make his adopted home a better place (a concept so incredibly American it hurts in today’s quagmire of xenophobia and idiocy) … a man who, through grit, determination, and skill, can manage to stand among gods (again, that spirit of determination and hope that we can all better ourselves) … a warrior who uses her strength not for conquest, but for peace (again, a paradox that is oh-s0 American, yet strangely compelling).  Above all, these archetypes, this Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are bound by the principle extolled in the panel above.  Though they might not always be successful, these heroes, these paragons, always try to find another way, a way to succeed that doesn’t cost in the lives of others, no matter whose lives they may be.

Before I move on, from here on out, there will be spoilers for the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  If you read further, you have been warned!

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Starving Review: Hybrid (The Evolution Trilogy Book 1) by Vanessa Wester

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Hybrid by Vanessa Wester (Amazon, Smashwords)

As I hoped for some more book sales to fill my pantry, I was fortunate enough to get a new book to chow down on instead.  That’s right, it’s time for another Starving Review!

This week’s main course is Hybrid, the first book in a paranormal romance series, The Evolution Trilogy.  What you say?  The guy who writes superhero and wrestling fiction picking up a romance book?  To that I say, ‘Broaden your minds!  The Tale of the Tape had a huge romance sub-plot!  Plus I was starving!’.  As per my standards, I will do my best to make this review as spoiler-free as possible and to see this in the light of a fan of the genre in question.

Let’s start off by saying this: On a technical level, the writing is quite good.  The pacing, character development, and depth of story are well ahead of many of Hybrid‘s brothers and sisters in the paranormal romance genre.  On a personal relationship level, there are fewer contrivances and those that do come up fit into the well-worn tropes of the romance genre … in other words, they are things that the readers will want to see.  The inevitable romantic entanglements and love dodecahedrons fit together much more naturally than most books of this kind.

In fact, talking about the genre tropes, at first blush, Hybrid seems to be a standard, if better written, book of the type, very paint-by-numbers.  However, at about the quarter way mark, Ms. Wester eschews the paint brush and brings in an industrial car painting robot, setting it on ‘CRAZY’ mode.  That may sound bad.  It’s not.  In fact, it’s almost glorious in the insanity it reaps!

You see, Hybrid goes off the rails not in the sense of the personal relationships and characterizations, which remain solid, but in a very Silver Age comic book/1950s atomic horror kind of way.  As the paranormal species that is core to the book is introduced and explained, the book takes glee as it smashes basic conventions and sets up the world these beings live in and how they operate.  I can’t really go into details without major spoilers, but simply let me say that I, as a comic book fan, really loved the general crazy involved.  It is a good kind of crazy and one that, for a genre that generally has more angst that sense, delights in that as much as the interpersonal conflicts.

Another point where Hybrid bucks the usual paranormal romance formula is in the rather expansive range of characters and points of view it dances over, adding to the narrative depth.  Add on to that the fact that the main PoV character for large sections of the book is the male lead and you get another turn off the over-trod path of the first person, female lead formula.  Refreshing.

Now, Hybrid isn’t without flaws.  Sometimes the over-the-top elements become too much even for a lover of such things to take seriously.  One incident in particular involving a mass mental manipulation (that should be vague enough to dodge the Spoiler Police) really made me pause and the later explanation of it did nothing to make it better.  There is little action, which while not a requirement in this genre can add to it, and the overall dramatic and romantic tension is uneven at times.  There is a fair amount of world-building that goes on in this book and, while Wester does a fairly good job at weaving it in with the actual story, there is a bit on info-dumping and a few cringe-worthy scenes of ‘As You Know‘ exposition.  Final flaw: the sudden climax and twist to set up the next book comes out of nowhere at the last minute, though the epilogue sweeps in and salvages part of it with a clever bit of follow-up on foreshadowing early in the book.

Let’s bring it all together then.

Hybrid is a solid paranormal romance and a good start for it’s series of books.  There are some intriguing surprises and Vanessa Wester wisely is not afraid to blaze off of the over-used pathways other writers in this genre have tread, bringing about a gleeful insanity to the whole thing.  It’s not perfect, but it stands above the majority of this genre that I’ve read.  If you enjoy this genre, definitely give this a read.  If you don’t, you may still want to give it a shot.  The first book is free, after all.

FINAL VERDICT: **** (Vanilla on the outside, crazy mix of flavors on the inside)