Superheros and a magical genius

Wild CardMany books these days are part of a series. And a fair chunk of my recent reading has been made up of such books. My favourite type of book series is one in which each novel is a separate story, as opposed to one long saga broken down into instalments. I like these books to have continuity and story elements that span the series… but having a story with a beginning, middle and end, all in one book, is rather good.

So today, I’m going to tell you about two such books — book two in Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series and book three in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic. Two very different books but both excellent in their own way.

Vanguard Prime is about superheroes. The first book, Goldrush (see: “Vanguard Prime to the rescue“), introduced us to Sam Lee, an ordinary teenager who suddenly finds himself acquiring super powers and joining the ranks of a quasi-military group of superheroes. In the second book, Sam teams up with fellow Vanguard Prime hero, the Knight of Wands, to go on a personal mission against an organisation calling itself The Major Arcana.

Where book one was an introduction to the world of superheros through the eyes of Sam Lee, book two, Wild Card, is an exploration of the Knight of Wands’ past as well as his frame of mind. I found the more personal nature of this second mission very engaging. And I also found myself becoming more accustomed to the perspective-swapping present tense narrative that I found a little distracting with the first book. It was good to get some insight into the history and motivations of one of the other Vanguard Prime members, and the Knight of Wands is certainly the superhero with the darkest and most mysterious past.

Wild Card is a good read. Fast paced and entertaining, but with some depth to what could easily have been cardboard cut-out characters. And as a bit of a pop culture junkie, I loved all the references that Lochran has peppered this story with — from Comic-Con to Star Wars. This book is also an easy read… I think Vanguard Prime is a great series to hook in reluctant readers.

Book three in the Vanguard Prime series, War Zone, is due out in September this year. I’m looking forward to it.

The Laws of Magic, by Michael Pryor, is an older series. The final book came out in 2011… I’m just a little late to jump onto this bandwagon. And what a magnificent bandwagon it is. Pryor has created a superbly detailed alternative Edwardian world, where magic exists alongside science. Into that world he has placed memorable characters, complex plots and a fascinating set of magical laws. The series centres around a gifted young aristocratic magician, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, who, due to over-confidence and a dose of arrogance, has placed himself in a rather tricky situation. I loved the first two books (see “Michael’s Blaze of Glory” and “Pryor’s Gold”), and I can say without any doubt that I loved this third book just as much. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three.

Word of Honour is as enthralling a read as its predecessors. Pryor’s prose is a joy to read and his created world is a joy to explore. The characters we’ve come to know and love are back, facing a dastardly new plot — but is it the work of Aubrey’s nemesis Dr Tremaine, or is someone else behind it? Well… I’m not going to tell you. Go read the book! You won’t regret it!

Catch ya later,  George

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Vanguard Prime to the rescue

GoldrushSuperheros, pop culture references and a fast-paced story combine to make an exciting and easy reading experience. What am I talking about? Goldrush — the first instalment in Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series of teen novels.

Sam Lee was an ordinary teenager until he suddenly developed super powers. Now he finds himself recruited by the elite military superhero group, Vanguard Prime, and given the superhero name Goldrush. As he attempts to fit in and gain control of his new-found powers, he is thrown into the middle of a struggle to save the world from the ultimate super villain, the Overman.

Vangaurd Prime is obviously inspired by established comic book superheros, from The Avenger to X-Men. In fact, there are quite marked similarities to the latter —instead of ‘mutants’, the superheros and super villains are ‘neohumans’. There is certainly an element of the derivative and predictable in this book. But Lockran handles it all with such enthusiasm, humour and lightning speed, that it really doesn’t matter. In fact, a familiarity with the comic book heroes of the past helps make this book even more enjoyable.

There is a lot to like in this book. The humour is wonderful… particularly the way in which the superheroes are marketed to the public. Love it! Sam’s character development is good — from reluctant recruit to vital team member — making him sympathetic and likable. But it’s all the pop culture references I loved the most. My personal favourite is the Star Trek reference to ‘Kobeyashi’. The moment that name is mentioned, every die-hard Star Trek fan knows exactly what’s going down. And there are many other references, from the obvious to the obscure. Even the name of the lead character is reminiscent of Stan Lee, legendary comic book writer and co-creator of so many superheroes, including the X-Men.

The narrative is divided between first-person present tense (for Sam) and third-person present tense. I’ve got to admit to not particularly liking this. I’m not a fan of present tense. I don’t mind it for first-person narrative where everything is from a particular character’s point of view, and that character’s inner thought processes are vital to the story … but I find it jarring in third-person. I can see why the author used it, as it does have immediacy and impact, but I’m still not keen on it. I’m sure that not all readers will share my bias, so please don’t let it put you off. I did get used to it as the story went along.

All up, Goldrush is a fun and exciting read. I’ll certainly be ordering the next instalment, Wild Card.

Catch ya later,  George

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