Friday, October 9, 2015

Ronin Games review

    The Wearing the Cape franchise is one of my favorite superhero novel franchises out there. It, along with Ex-Heroes and Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, helped inspire me to write The Supervillainy Saga. As a result, I've always been a first day buyer of the books whenever they come out. I appreciate that this is becoming a lengthy well-detailed world with as much complex history and physics as any other science-fiction/fantasy franchise in the genre.

    The premise of the series is Hope Corrigan, the superheroine known as Astra, is a Breakthrough. Breakthroughs are individuals who gained superpowers with the Event. Given abilities related to things like comic books, mythology, and fiction, they have since gone on to remake the world into a superhero-themed one. Superheroes have rules, regulations, and licenses to operate in this world--which is realism I really like.

    Unfortunately, the last couple of books have suffered from pushing the more metaphysical and crazier elements of the setting. Rather than deal with the social consequences of superheroes and character interactions, it's focused on things like alternate dimensions and the idea of "fictional" concepts coming to life. It's not bad, per se, but I really am hoping to see more focus on the more mundane elements of the setting.

    The premise of this volume is Hope dealing with a curse. A magical tree is pulling her into an alternate dimension and she needs to find a cure. The only possible source is Kistune, a fox spirit shape-shifter who is doing wetwork for Japan. Having exhausted all legal options, Hope, Jackie, and Ozma decide to journey undercover to the nation in order to extract him.

    While not terribly fond of the premise, having had enough of the spirit world in this setting, I've got to say I loved everything else. Japan is beautifully realized in the setting with anime, mecha, kaiju, mythological figures, and magical girls being part of its cultural superhero spectrum. There's an actual moment, I kid you not, where a life-size Gundam is animated by magic and fights a Godzilla stand-in.

    That justified the cost of the book alone.

    The return of Jackie a.k.a Artemis is also a major point in the book's favor. Artemis is one of my favorite characters in superhero fiction and while I wasn't a big fan of her solo book, thinking it was too urban fantasy and not enough superhero in atmosphere, the character plays off excellently against Hope. I also liked the inclusion of Ozma who serves as a nice pragmatic counterpoint to Artemis' cynicism and Hope's idealism. In a very real way, they fulfill the "power trio" of Superman (Astra), Batman (Artemis), and Wonder Woman (Ozma).

    Not much happens in the book in terms of character development but I like how a lot of plots I felt were dropped in previous books like the Teatime Anarchist's Prophecies return to underscore many of the current problems. There's also hints as to what future books will hope like a trip to Oz (!) and dealing with Hope's newly discovered immortality. I'm not a big fan of Kitsune as a potential love interest for Hope but given he's a Fox and morally ambiguous (making him a male Catwoman), that does offer some very interesting potential avenues for storytelling.

    The action was good in the book, the banter was fun, and the characterization was spot-on. I hope future books will continue to focus on Astra, Artemis, and Ozma over other characters I'm not as invested in. I like the somewhat downgraded role of Shelly as well since she's been a bit overexposed in previous books but was very entertaining as a digital ghost inhabiting a cat. In short, this book was really-really fun and is probably my second or third favorite in the series after the original Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc.


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