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Sunday, May 8, 2011


Author:  Carrie Vaughn
Plot Type:  Superhero Fantasy
Publisher and Titles:  Tor 
          "Rooftops" in Songs of Love & Death (2010)
          After the Golden Age (1/2012)
          Dreams of the Golden Age (hardback, ebook, 1/2014; paperback, 11/2014)  

     This post was revised and updated on 4/14/14 to include a review of Dreams of the Golden Age, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and  reviews of the short story and the first novel.  

           NOVEL 2:  Dreams of the Golden Age            
     Two decades have passed since the end of book 1, and the eldest of Celia and Arthur's two teenage daughters has come into her superpowers. Anna isn't very happy that her power is being able to find people because she doesn't see that as being very "super." In fact, she's a bit jealous of her friends, all of whom have developed more dazzling powers: Teia, who can freeze anything she touches; Lew, who can manipulate air and wind; and Sam, who can blast fiery electrical charges from his hands. Teia and Lew are twins whose mother is Celia's best friend, Analise (aka Typhoon). Analise had a terrible experience while using her superpowers in book one and has always kept her identity a secret from everyone but Celia. The fifth member of their group is Teddy, who can become invisible and walk through walls. Together, they are secretly honing their powers, learning to work together, and planning to become helpful vigilantes, just like the old Olympiad.

     Meanwhile, Celia is keeping track of all of the descendants of Dr. Simon Sito's enhanced humans—the original superheroes Sito created in his monstrous laboratory. She has made sure that they all attend Elmwood Academy and hopes in her heart that they will find each other and become friends, perhaps even a team. Working closely with her long-ago ex-boyfriend, Mark Paulson, now a police captain, Celia has been keeping an eye on the new generation to determine if any of them are developing and using superpowers. Celia is now a powerful presence in Commerce City as the head of the West Corporation. As the story opens, the Commerce City planning committee is on the verge of approving Celia's urban redevelopment plan, but then an outsider—Danton Majors—steps up to become her primary competitor and bitter enemy.

     Seventeen-year-old Anna is living her teen-age years just like Celia did: rebelling against her parents and keeping dark secrets from her family. Keeping anything a secret in Anna's family is very difficult, though. Imagine being a teenager whose father is  Dr. Mentis, the most powerful mind reader in the world! Anna and her friends are determined to use their powers for the greater good, but some members of the group would like to publicize their efforts, while Celia remembers her mother's stories about what happens to super-hero families when their cover is blown. As Anna and her friends argue, split up, and then come together in a major effort to save a loved one's life, they learn the true value of their super powers.

     This is a real page-turner that moves along at a fast clip. It is particularly poignant to see how the older generation of superheroes is dealing with their "golden" years, with Suzanne/Spark confining her flaming power to the culinary arts and the formerly super-fast Robert/Bullet limping along with a cane because of his arthritis. Anna is a complex characters—a typical teen in her angsty family relations, but also an intelligent young woman who knows the difference between right and wrong. She has learned from her mother's experience that going too far in her rebellion against her family could land herself and her friends in a lot of trouble. Celia's character has matured so much; she is a mother, a powerful businesswoman, a caring member of the Commerce City community, and a loving partner (not wife—she and Arthur never married but live together with their children). As she deals with her mud-slinging competitor and faces a life-changing health scare and yet another kidnapping, she proves once again to be just as strong and smart as she was in her debut novel.

     Once again, Carrie Vaughn proves that she is a great story teller. What a great idea to look in on the next generation of super heroes—checking out what the future will hold for Commerce City while also visiting with old friends from the previous generations. The humor comes right alongside the drama, particularly as the teens come up with their superhero disguises and nicknames and then keep forgetting to use them when they are in public places. Particularly entertaining is a new-guy superhero from out of town whose talent is to make huge leaps through the air. As he and Anna become friends, she teases him constantly with guesses at comedic nicknames he might get stuck with. This character's true identity is signaled early on, but we don't learn whether he is a good guy or a bad guy until the requisite final showdown.

     Although this book could be read as a stand-alone, I recommend that you read After the Golden Age first so that you get a sense of history—both Celia's the Olympiad's, particularly because the story contains many, many reference to past characters and events, particularly to the Destructor and the legacy of his horrific experiments. Click HERE to read the first two chapters of Dreams of the Golden Age.

     The great Carrie Vaughn, author of the wonderful KITTY NORVILLE series has written a terrifically inventive stand-alone novel that explores the life of the talent-challenged daughter of superhero parents.

     In this comic-book inspired world, a small group of superheroes—each with a different magical talent and each with an overwhelming loyalty to Commerce City—patrols the streets, protecting the citizens from all manner of crimes and criminals. The most famous of the superheroes are the members of the Olympiad, and the heroine’s parents are the top fighters: Captain Olympus (aka Golden Thunderbolt, aka Warren West), a Superman-type crime fighter, and Spark (aka Suzanne West), a flame thrower. The two remaining Olympiad members are the Bullet (aka Robbie Denton), a strong and speedy whirlwind; and Dr. Arthur Mentis, a lonely telepath and the only one to show any empathy toward the heroine. Other superheroes also help out, including Celia's BFF, Analise (aka Typhoon), who controls water. They all wear the usual superhero skin-tight costumes (except for Arthur, who wears business suits), and their number one purpose in life is fighting crime. The superheroes are practically worshipped by the citizens, but just as a crime wave sweeps the city, the mayor turns against them.

     How would you feel if your parents were the much-admired, super-strong, magically talented protectors of your home town, but you had absolutely no powers? That's the premise for this story. Celia West, the aforesaid daughter, made some poor choices during her teen years, particularly the one in which she went briefly to the dark side, aiding and abetting the city's most heinous villain, the Destructor (aka Dr. Simon Sito). Celia's parents (Captain Olympus and Spark) always assumed that Celia would grow into her magical powers, and they didn't handle it well when those powers never appeared. Celia dealt with their rejection by rebelling in every way she could think of—from goth-girl make-up to sullen attitude to joining the enemy. 

     After her adventure with the Destructor ended—very badly—Celia turned her back on her parents, got her college degree in accounting, and established a life entirely on her own—even though her parents are millionaires. Now she rides the bus to her job as a forensic accountant, and she rarely sees or speaks to her parents, which no one can understand. When she meets people for the first time, all they want to talk about is the Olympiad and how proud she must be of her parents. Needless to say, all Celia wants is a normal life—whatever that is. 

     Vaughn's humanization of the superheroes reminds me of Richard Wagner's treatment of the gods in his Ring Cycle, based on Norse mythology. In those operas, the top god (Wotan) has many of the same traits as Captain Olympus: arrogance, in particular, which proves to be the downfall of both men.

     Carrie Vaughn has been nominated for a Hugo award for her short story "Amaryllis" in Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories (Night Shade Books, 2010), an anthology of 33 stories of dystopian futures and alternate worlds.

           SHORT STORY 1:  "Rooftops"            
     Charlotte is a young playwright whose first play is about to open off-Broadway. She's got a boyfriend named Dorian—an up-and-coming assistant district attorney—but her life feels incomplete. One night when Dorian breaks yet another date to work late, Charlotte has a late dinner on the roof-top patio of a local restaurant at the same time that burglars break into the jewelry store next door. Unfortunately for the burglars, the police arrive on the scene almost immediately, and the thieves panic and hold Charlotte hostage. When a superhero appears out of nowhere, the villains toss Charlotte over the railing, and the unnamed superhero saves Charlotte's life. This is a new superhero, unknown to the police and citizens of Commerce City, so the incident gets lots of publicity.

     From that point on, Charlotte is obsessed with her handsome, mysterious rescuer, and he seems just as obsessed with her. As Dorian continues to work longer hours, missing dates and even missing her play's opening night, her superhero appears in the shadows and on near-by rooftops, always seeming to keep an eye on her. Could a super-romance be in her future?

     This is a cute story that fits right in with the novels. The other stories in the anthology—all involving star-crossed lovers—are also quite good, with authors like Jim Butcher, M. L. N. Hanover, Neil Gaiman, Marjorie M. Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, and Diana Gabaldon.

           NOVEL 1:  After the Golden Age            
     As the story begins, Celia is assigned to work with the District Attorney to gather evidence for the prosecution of the Destructor for tax evasion. As is true in real life, criminals are frequently tripped up by their financial records rather than by their more violent criminal activities. As Celia delves into Dr. Sito's financial records, she uncovers some long-buried information about her family corporation's history and about the superheroes' past. Complicating Celia's life is her blossoming relationship with police detective Mark Paulson, son of the mayor. Mark's behavior during Celia's trial work and other investigations takes her from euphoria to pain in a very short time. Ultimately, Celia does find love, but not where she expects it.

     Vaughn is a great story teller. She gives us a complete picture of Celia's past by interweaving bits and pieces throughout the story in a natural progression, through Celia's own memories and her dialogues with various characters. Celia's tense relationship with her father—the heart of the story—is very realistic. The family members—and, in fact, all of the characters—show a range of human frailties common to us all.

     I enjoyed this book immenselyread it in one sitting—and I hope that Vaughn keeps on writing forever. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of After the Golden Age.

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