At the opening of this story, an introduction – reminiscent of the opening of the first Star Wars movie (you can almost see the words scroll by) – tells us that for hundreds of years, prodigies – people with unusual powers – were feared, oppressed, hunted down, and killed. Then a group of prodigies led by the legendary Ace Anarchy banded together and took down the people and institutions dedicated to their destruction. After that, there was a period of disorder and lawlessness, and criminal gangs terrorized the population. Another group of prodigies calling themselves the Renegades got together to “save” the people by destroying the gangs as well as the Anarchists. The conflict culminated ten years before the start of this story in the Battle for Gatlon City. Since then, the Renegades have run the city through their ruling Council, which consists of the five original Renegades. The remaining Anarchists went underground.
Among the small group of surviving Anarchists is the prodigy Nova Artino. As a child, her father always assured her that the Renegades promised to save them if they were in trouble. But her whole family was assassinated one night by a gang, and the Renegades never showed up. Nova was only spared by fortuitously disabling the attacker thanks to her superpower that could put people to sleep. She was still standing over the gang member in shock when her uncle, Ace Anarchy himself, came to rescue her. He took her in with the surviving Anarchists. Then she lost her uncle in the Battle of Gatlon.
Nova blames the Renegades for all of it, and wants only to avenge Ace and destroy the Renegades.
She has a further agenda: she believes the Council is failing the people. People have come to rely on the prodigies to do everything instead of taking responsibility for doing it themselves. This has made the people increasingly weaker: apathetic and indifferent. Nova believed that heroism, which now meant having a super skill, should be more about what you did with your life than what superpower you had. “It was about who you saved when they needed saving.” But these philosophical aspects of her motivation are inspired more by Nova’s personal history and her resentment of the Renegades than by any well-thought-out ideological disposition.
Lately Nova, now 16, has been “coming out” as the Anarchist “Nightmare.” At the yearly “Renegade Parade,” she and her fellow anarchists plan to take out the Council. They are thwarted in part by Nova’s own reluctance to kill, as well as by the appearance of a new powerful prodigy on the Renegade side calling himself “The Sentinel.” After this failure, the Anarchists decide that their only hope is for Nova, still unknown, to infiltrate the Renegades, so the Anarchists can figure out how to defeat them.
Nova manages to earn a place in the Renegades as “Nova McLain” and is accepted into the crew of Adrian Everhart, the adopted son of two men on the Council, Hugh and Simon. Adrian’s mother had been killed during the Battle for Gatlon. Of course Adrian is handsome and kind and generous, which upsets all of Nova’s preconceptions. She also gets to like the rest of the crew, who are just teens like her, rather than the evil adversaries she had believed they were.
As Nova gets more enmeshed with the Renegades, she is increasingly conflicted. Or is she? A big twist in the ending suggests there is more to her story than we know.
Discussion: A good deal of the “mysteries” and “twists” in the plot are painfully obvious. Moreover, much of the cliched comic-book dialogue and characterizations are less nuanced than in comic books themselves. Some of this is humorous in comic-book style tradition. For example, Adrian and Nova don’t recognize each other’s alter egos, even though there isn’t much more than a costume separating their everyday selves from their prodigy identities. One thinks of years of seeing everyone fooled by Clark Kent’s glasses.
As for the main character, Nova has some impressive skills with inventing helpful gadgetry, and it is good to see this capability in a female protagonist. But she is much less insightful than any of Mayer’s previous heroines, as well as less open to new information to challenge her prior beliefs about what might or might not be true. Nor is she as likable.
Evaluation: I felt like the author couldn’t decide if she wanted to write a comic book or a more fleshed-out young adult coming-of-age story, especially at the beginning of the book. She did seem to find a more consistent rhythm with less use of caricatures as the story progressed, however. I look forward to seeing what happens next, but not as much as with her previous books.
Published by Feiwel & Friends, 2017