2017’s Sovereign is the second novel in April Daniels’ Nemesis series.
Less than a year after super-powers were thrust on her, Danny “Dreadnought” Tozer seems to be finding her feet as a superhero and as a person. She and her lawyer have a cunning scheme to recreate the effectively defunct Legion Pacifica under Danny’s control. Danny is also on the verge of being legally emancipated from her abusive parents. Not bad for someone only barely old enough to drive.
With everything under control, it seems like the perfect time for a working holiday at a global convention for superhumans. This is, of course, exactly when her enemies unite against her.
Arcane TERF Graywytch despises all transsexuals, but Danny’s prominence as a superhero really puts the grit under Graywytch’s eyelid. Danny has been too effective as a superhero for the witch to undermine Danny’s standing in the cape world, but what she can do is provide Danny’s parents with a high-priced lawyer who will try to sabotage the teen’s legal emancipation.
This would be a good time for Danny to turn to her allies, but, alas! the members of the Legion Pacifica who liked her are mostly dead or incapacitated. The exception, her roommate Doctor Impossible, is consumed by remorse over events in the previous novel, and has yet to emerge from the bottle into which she fell. Danny’s best friend Calamity has grown increasingly distant since recovering from her injuries in the first novel. Even Mad Scientist Professor Gothic only approaches Dreadnought long enough for a few enigmatic hints about the coming crisis before running off into hiding.
At least Danny has her own lawyer1.
When the daughter of Danny’s deceased friend and ally Valkyrja begs Danny for help, our protagonist finds the task a welcome distraction. The daughter is being attacked from within by the memories she has inherited from her mother. (When one Valkyrja dies, her memories and the memories of all the Valkyrjas before her are passed on to a daughter.) The line is immortal; the afflicted inheritor is temporarily overwhelmed. Danny’s powers cannot help the daughter; what she can do is find and hire someone else to intervene.
She settles on a billionaire tech-bro who will do the job for free if Danny agrees to listen to his pitch. Reasonable enough. What could go wrong? Who would expect a reclusive rich guy with his own artificial island and a burning desire to remake the world to be any kind of villain?
Danny has legitimate reasons to resist indiscriminate slaughter, but her faith in the legal system to deal with supervillains is remarkable. Of course, in her world the legal system has been doing just that since WWII; presumably she wouldn’t hand supervillains over to the super-crime justice system if it had the Arkham Asylum’s revolving doors. Still, one cannot help but notice that mercy extends mainly to the named characters. Mooks get squashed. And I strongly suspect that the Big Bad in this book is not the sort of person to provide his minions with generous life insurance packages.
Professor Gothic’s revelation drives the plot.
“Should this growth continue its current pattern, as much as 7% of the human population could have superpowers by the end of the decade. By the middle of this century, that number could be as high as 41%.”
“Unless this trend reverses itself, I project that the entire human species will have superpowers by the year 2100 […]”
The usual rule in books like this is that by the end, the status is back to quo. Not so in Sovereign. Even if there was a consensus on what normal is — and this is not a book that wants to define a norm to which everyone should aspire — nobody with the ability to determine the course of the world wants to return to the previous status quo. They argue over how the future will be shaped, whether by self-proclaimed aristocrats or by people with a more democratic vision of the world.
Unusually for SF, this novel is on the side of the second group. Daniels firmly opposes the position taken by Brad Birds’ The Incredibles, in which the villain’s ultimate scheme is to hand everyone powers because
Empowering people does not make them homogenous, nor do their abilities become worthless, no matter how much that fact may upset the Galt’s Gulch contingent.
Dreadnought is what is commonly called a Flying Brick.
- The first rule for dealing with flying bricks is to attack them from angles where their powers are of no use. In Danny’s case, that’s her legal and social status. The bad guys do an admirable job of causing Danny legal trouble; their ploys range from supercharging her parents’ case against emancipation to ginning up some murder charges.
- The second rule is get a bigger hammer; the baddies do a fair job at that as well.
Danny also manages a few own-goals. She alienates other transsexual heroes with an apparent attempt to falsely claim the title of first transsexual superhero. She has blind spot when it comes to romance that seems implausible in an inexperienced teen. Surely she needs more practice to get things that wrong!
Happily for Danny, she understands that one of the real dividing lines between heroes and villains is that while villains have allies, heroes have friends. Allies can be trusted right up to the point that their interests diverge. Friends, on the other hand, are more dependable.
This was even better than the previous book, save for one small thing. After I read Dreadnought, I could appeal to the publisher for an advanced reading copy of the sequel, then consume it with all the self-control of a sugar-addled toddler. Having read Sovereign, I will have to wait for my fix until the next book is written. That could be months! How vexing.
Perhaps if I used my little device to carve the moon into the shape of a skull, Daniels would write faster. Worth a try, anyway.
Please email corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.
1: Who very oddly is not a supervillain.