The Don't Tell My Parents series is one I am deeply enamoured of. It's on my list along with Ex-Heroes, Wearing the Cape, and Confessions of a D-List Supervillain for some of the best superhero fiction out there (along with my Supervillainy Saga of course). The books are neither dark or especially deep but they're fun.
The premise for the series as a whole is Penny Akk, daughter of superheroes Brainy Akk and the Audit, has discovered her superpowers at puberty (age 13). This results in her attempting to become a superhero but accidentally getting herself branded as a supervillain. With her friends Ray and Claire, both getting superpowers from her science experiments, she becomes the leader of the Inscrutable Machine, the world's youngest supervillain team.
This episode picks up after the rather lackluster Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon and returns to the more interesting environment of Los Angeles. The story opens with Penny trying for a second time to become a superhero, only to get herself busted as her parents justifiably don't want her endangering herself at such a young age.
The focus of this episode is less on the Inscrutable Machine building a army of henchmen than the slow transformation of their school into a West Coast version of Professor Xavier's Westchester Academy. It seems every other student was hiding powers of one sort or another and this leads them to forming a fanclub to see how they could develop their abilities to fight (or commit crime). All around the newly-outed-as-a-superhuman-but-not-as-a-supervillain Penny.
Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen is a significant improvement over its predecessor and has a lot more of the fun, whimsical style I came to love in the original book. It also doesn't have much of a plot as compared to the previous book, which is both a blessing as well as a curse. This is mostly a series of vignettes about Penny and her life, following her group as they try to figure out what they're going to do with their abilities.
This entry in the series moves from silly adventure to silly adventure with getting a supervillain to reconcile with his family, a field trip to supervillain-filled Chinatown, and dealing with a Lara Croft-esque adventurer trying to break into an old tomb. There's also a nice little storyline about poor Generic Girl trying to deal with the fact she doesn't want to be a superhero but feels like she's obligated to use her powers for good.
There's some interesting story developments in the aforementioned Generic Girl, Marcia, and the relationships among the main cast. However, the book suffers a bit from not having a real focus to build the story around. In the first book, it was the Inscrutable Machine accepting they were supervillains. In the second book, it was the larger plot with the steampunk Jupiter colonists. Here? There's not much going on.
There's some definitely entertaining bits, don't get me wrong. I also like the addition of a LGBT character to the main cast. I also like the new character of Bull who is one of the world's most experienced supervillains but a man who has decided to retire to teach kids. I am eager to see where things go from there. I do hope the next volume has a little higher stakes, though, especially as the cast grows older.
Despite this, I very much enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next installment of the series. The Inscrutable Machine remains the most likable supervillains you're going to find in a Young Adult series. I don't foresee that as changing. Richard Roberts has an amazing talent for creating engaging whimsical characters who manage to be cute without being saccharine. Penelope Akk is the Princess of Adolescent Supervillainy. *puts a five in the Princess jar*