By Peter Moore
Available now from Disney Hyperion
I am a huge sucker for superhero books. When I heard about V IS FOR VILLAIN, I knew that I had to read it. And it definitely scratched some of my superhero itches, like a complicated relationship between the protagonist and his arch-nemesis. At the same time, I was never quite convinced of the world.
Brad Baron lives in a world shaped by superheroes and their battles with Phaetons. The superheroes were all created decades ago, and the newest ones are generally legacies. Both Brad's father and brother are famous heroes. Phaetons are created when people try to mutate their genes themselves -- it often goes wrong. Brad has super genes, but only for intelligence. That means he can't keep up in the Academy, which focuses on physical powers. He gets shunted off to the A-track. (A is for alternative.)
The Academy, and by extension the world's, focus on certain powers just never quite worked for me. What can I say, some of my favorite superheroes are the ones without powers. And Brad, in his rise to villainy, shows pretty thoroughly just how dangerous someone can be without physical powers. Surely there were others before him? Decades of people with powers, why no supervillains that aren't Phaetons? Plus, quite a bit of worldbuilding is done through expository footnotes that quickly get boring.
At the same time, I found the characters very believable. Brad and his friends have pretty radical ideas about what it means to be a hero -- albeit radical for their society. They're in favor of things like bringing people to trial instead of killing them on the spot. But Brad also has a nasty streak of entitlement. Layla, the head of the alternative kids, may or may not be interested in Brad. Either way, she definitely has her own agenda, which I appreciated. I also liked Brad's meat-head hero brother, Blake. Brad and Blake care about each other, because they're brothers, yet they deeply irritate each other as well.
I thought the characters' feelings, motivations, and relationships were terrific and wish the world had worked as well for me. Although, since I'm talking about character, Brad came off as very average in intelligence to me. I might have bought him as a little smarter than the other characters, but not as a super genius. Luckily, he had other qualities to make up for it.
This tale of a boy's rise to villainy has some moments that shine, but it's a bit too didactic to give the through-the-eyes-of-the-villain premise much weight. Superhero and dystopian fans might find things to enjoy about this novel, but I'd just check this one out from the library instead of buying it.