2017’s Renegades is the first volume in Marissa Meyer’s novel series, also known as Renegades.
Once prodigies (people with superpowers) were feared and oppressed. Thanks to the efforts of paramount prodigy Ace Artino (AKA Ace Anarchy) prodigies were feared but no longer oppressed, albeit at the cost of the temporary collapse of civilization during the Age of Anarchy.
The super-powered Renegades ended the Age of Anarchy by crushing every rival group. Based in Gatlon City, the Renegades have replaced the vanished civilian government with their own (well-intended) rule. This new arrangement is short on democratic niceties but it’s better than the never-ending gang war it replaced. Most people are willing to live with rule by Renegade.
But not Nova “Nightmare” Artino.
Nova has three bones to pick with the Renegades.
The first is philosophical: she is an anarchist and she does not approve of dependency on prodigies.
The second is personal: her father’s decision to trust to the Renegades for protection led to the deaths of everyone in Nova’s immediate family (save for Nova).
Her uncle Ace Anarchy punished the criminals responsible and provided Nova with a home. Renegades killed him; that’s the third grudge.
Nova has a superpower, but it’s not of much use. She can put people to sleep with a touch. This requires skin-to-skin contract. She can be taken out by anyone with a distance weapon. Well, there’s another aspect of her superpower that has been of some use. She doesn’t need to sleep. She has used the time thus freed up to master many skills, martial and technical. Her skills make her a deadly opponent.
Some of Ace Anarchy’s Anarchist gang have survived. They’re Nova’s replacement family. So far, they have been grudgingly tolerated (as long as they obey what’s left of the law). That’s not enough. They’re considering plans to overthrow the Renegades. There are two plans being mooted, one direct and one subtle. They decide to set both in motion (which may be a mistake, as the plans may not work well together).
Plan A: take out a bunch of Renegades when they show up for the annual Renegade victory parade. Nova is to shoot the invulnerable Captain Chromium in the eye with a poisoned dart; her pals will kill as many Renegades as they can.
Result: Not a single Renegade is killed. The attack pushes the Renegades to launch an anti-Anarchist campaign.
Plan B: Nova will rebrand herself as a new superhero, Insomnia, and join the Renegades. She can then undermine her bitter enemies from within. Or so she hopes.
Result: Once a member, she is expected to do her bit to deal with the Anarchists. This is stressful; they are like family and they KNOW her. Any Anarchist who is captured might betray Nova to the Renegades.
Nova gets a partner in Sketch, the C‑list son of Lady Indomitable. His mother died years before under mysterious circumstances, leaving Sketch to be raised by the Renegades. Unbeknownst to anyone on the Renegade Council, Sketch has discovered a way to use his ability to make drawings come to life: he uses it to turn himself into Sentinel, an armoured prodigy. Sentinel pretends to be a sanctioned Renegade but is not1.
During the attack on Captain Chromium, Sentinel leapt to the defence of the targeted Renegades. During the scuffle, his opponent uttered the phrase “One cannot be brave who has no fear.” This is the very phrase written on a card found on his mother’s corpse. Convinced there is a connection between the attack on Chromium and his mother’s death, Sketch is determined to track down and detain his foe.
Good thing for Sketch that Nova is right there to assist with his quest. Good thing that their mutual crush gives Nova a reason to want to help Sketch.
If only the foe in question weren’t Nova. Awkward.
As to the culpability of the Renegades re the deaths of Nova’s family: the Renegades may all have superhuman abilities but those abilities do not include governance and policing. They run things because they are the biggest, most powerful gang in the city, but they are few and their skills are limited. Only recently has the gang begun to wonder if they should reinstate a non-powered police force. It’s the sort of bold proposal that makes one wonder what other vital services have been overlooked.
One must also wonder how far the population fell during the Age of Anarchy. The glut of empty buildings suggests that all too many died.
Few people see themselves as the bad guys; they tell themselves stories in which they are the heroes. Having been raised and indoctrinated by the Anarchists, Nova has a hard time seeing them as anything other than heroes. However, there’s at least one good reason that the Renegades take such a dim view of the Anarchists: many of the Anarchists are casually homicidal and have poor impulse control. Nova’s grand scheme to infiltrate the Renegades is continually threatened because various Anarchists pop by her flat to chat about the Big Plan … even though Nova has warned them she dare not openly associate with the Renegades’ bitter enemies2.
Indeed, it would seem that the main difference between the Renegades and the Anarchists (aside from the Renegades having won and the Anarchists having lost) is not that one group is good and the other evil, or one empathic and the other sociopathic. It’s that the Renegades have greater ability to defer gratification in service to longer term goals. Some of the Renegades are just as nasty as the Anarchists but … they understand that if they don’t control themselves, they’ll embarrass the Council and the Council will punish them.
This could and should have been much leaner book. Perhaps the author was trying to inclue new readers unfamiliar with superhero tropes. Is that really necessary? Given the mass popularity of superhero comics and movies? Well, even if it were necessary, this could have been a more tightly paced book. Sayeth the slightly bored reviewer.
1: Many superheroes are compulsively secretive. There are many reasons why concealing information from people likely to take a sympathetic view of one’s efforts might make sense. In Sketch’s case, it may be that he is just a bit of a knucklehead. See .
2: One of the odder attributes common to the Anarchists is that they are terrible liars. Spinning plausible fibs and then sticking to them for any length of time is not a skill set for which the Anarchists are known. Although Nova is not by far the worst offender in this regard, it is only because the worst offender (Winston “the Puppeteer” Pratt”) has his boots firmly planted in Dunning-Kruger territory. He’s so terrible at lying that he has no idea how terrible he is at lying. Nova’s lies are pretty transparent and the main reason they work is that she directs most of her lies to Sketch, who is pretty but not, as they say, burdened with intellect.