Wearing the Cape by Marion G Harmon
Words is funny things and to a Brit whose old bones have washed up on a foreign shore, it’s always interesting to find my vocabulary increasing. Since Wearing the Cape is a first-person narrative, I now know teen American girls use words like “woogy” and “nuggying”. OK so that’s an unfair early comment because it might suggest this book is YA and pitched at readers who nuggy each other every other Tuesday when there’s an “r” in the month. But, actually, it points to an interesting truth about the language used. It swings quite violently from thoughts appropriate to a bimbo to highly sophisticated thinking a sufficient number of grades above bimbo to qualify the thinker as a superhero. Indeed, one of the fascinations of reading this book is to watch the usages and grammar switch from simple and elegant, to complex and academic. Put another way, Marion G Harmon has had fun writing this. There’s some sly humour at work as Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials becomes Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans, and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall becomes Charles Gibbons, The New Heroic Age. And, yes, some moments made me smile. Harmon is prepared to bushwhack the reader with a nice turn of phrase every now and then.
So this is a coming-of-age, rite-of-passage frame that’s rather dismantled as our young heroine suddenly “comes out” of her wrecked car as a superhero — staying straight, of course and not suddenly embracing homosexuality. Left at this level, it would have simply shown how she learns to control her powers and does good stuff for the benefit of humanity. But this adopts the strategy of Tim Kring’s TV series Heroes as there are multiple hero “types” including one with the ability to travel in time. Ah, time travel, that bear pit of lost ventures as mere mortals wrestle with paradox and learn all there is to know about predestination. So key events in this book are shaped by surveys of the future suggesting there are “dangers” to be avoided. No surprise there and, not unnaturally, our heroine is at the heart of the struggle to keep the world on the straight and narrow path, avoiding as much destruction to life as possible.
A part of the test of a good science fiction book is the willingness of the author to work through the logic of the situation, picking up the details and fitting them together into the jigsaw of the world he’s created. In this case, we have an unexplained worldwide “event”. Many die but one of the more hopeful consequences is that a few people develop superhuman powers. So some are literally quick off the mark and start using these powers for good, rescuing people from the wreckage, while others go out and rob the nearest bank. This immediately raises the question of what you do about the superpowered with criminal tendencies. The idea of an Elizabeth Arkham Asylum is good enough for human villains in other contexts, but superhuman villains. . . Well, they need to be taught a lesson and if that means a few must die, that’s all part of the deterrent function of policing.
This is the turning point in the novel and marks a change in tone that elevates all this from the routine as the author demonstrates an increasingly unsentimental view of the world he’s created. In so many contemporary novels, we must see everything pass through a period of uncertainty only for us to emerge into sunshine at the end. This seems to reflect a modern entertainment convention that focus groups must approve the work before release to the public. Should these groups disapprove, key scenes in the film or television show will be reshot, passages in the book will be rewritten. This is creativity by committee, everything conforming to whatever these randomly selected groups assert represents the majority’s sensibilities. Supposedly, this consultation process produces work likely to sell in numbers to the target niche rather than common denominator pap — your chance to express an opinion. Although I don’t think Harmon goes far enough towards the edginess that would make this a great novel, there’s some darkness in this tale of superheroes. He has the book going in the right direction.
So is Wearing the Cape great literature? Sadly, no. Does it have the most original plot of all time? Again, no. But it’s got a lot of heart, rearranging some fairly standard superhero tropes into new patterns that make it a genuinely entertaining read. Sure, it’s unpretentious but all the better for it. So, all in all, this is a very good value ebook, available in a Kindle edition for download to a reader like you. For the next books in the series, see:
Bite Me: Big Easy Nights
A copy of this ebook was sent to me for review.