Blurb from the author's website:
Penance Copper is tired of being a tool for evil.
She’s been working for Acid ever since she was small. She had no other choice, he owned her. Even with her superpowers, she’s never been able to escape. But at least he only has her steal. Never anything worse than that.
Until he orders her to use her powers to kill the superhero Justice for investigating trafficked girls.
Penance doesn’t want to be a murderer. She uses the opportunity to run away from Acid and make a new life. One where she can make up for everything she did on Acid’s orders.
But events larger than Penance are spinning into action, and soon she is embroiled in an intergalactic encounter with an alien boy named Kail, who is perhaps as lonely and broken as she is. Even if he is infuriatingly arrogant.
The first young adult series in the shared Heroes Unleashed universe launches with the Teen Heroes Unleashed series. Readers will love hardworking, sassy Penance as she tries to learn to use her superpowers to save the world instead of to steal.
Can Penance and Kail find the missing girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion? Or will Acid find her again and punish her for running away?
Read Penance today to find out!
This novel from Silver Empire's Heroes Unleashed series is a strong debut from author Paulie Richey. Kinetic and touching, it fits right in with the rest of the brand. Despite its YA branding, I have to say I think superhero fans of any age will enjoy it.
It's tight and moves smoothly from one event to the next. The characters have agency and this drives things forward almost the entire time. There is a bit of a slowdown for our main characters going into the third act, where I itched for them to be back in the action, but this slow spell serves the characters and their budding relationship well. It also provides time for exploring some of the tropes necessary to the YA angle. Ie: the mains getting to know each other.
Really that's something we come across in all action fiction with romantic subplots, and I think Paula handled it well. The finale was appropriately painful and exciting, setting us up for the next installment.
Characters are distinct and well drawn. Penance is both likeable and pitiable, a girl locked in a hard place but with the inner conviction to find her way out. It was a bold decision to run her discovery of faith in parallel to her ascent into heroism, and I think it worked. As with most unmasked depictions of the Gospel in fiction, the faith elements feel 3 dimensional in a way no fiction can. While this may be a bump in the road for non-Christian readers, I assure you that the author's treatment is sincere here, not at all ham-fisted. Understand that Penance's faith is linked to her heroism and enjoy.
Kail makes a great counterpart and foil to Penance, the straight man to her comedienne. It will be interesting to see what he does with the life he gains over the course of this story.
The supporting characters are varied and memorable, some with powers and others mundane. Readers with a penchant for many POVs will enjoy the scenes focusing on these people swept up in Penance's storm.
My first impression of Paula Richey's prose was smooth. The novel is well-written and lean. I never had the urge to skip or skim, quickly finding myself able to trust the author with where things were going. Scens flow sensibly and the whole structure is snappy enough that we get to see several locations without feeling confused or lost.
This is an excellent debut and I am eager to see how Paula's writing grows and continues to improve.
Critique - no spoilers, but may affect your perception on first read.
It's always hard for me to do this part. I'm a positively oriented person and tend to give the benefit of the doubt when I disagree with a decision. With that in mind, and considering how good this book was overall, I can only note where I might have done things differently. I may or may not be correct 'objectively'.
The main thing is the section where things slow down for our mains so they can have time to romance a little. Again I argue (against myself?) that this is necessary for the novel, but I might have (being male) kept the two on the run rather than allowing them respite. If there were to be tender moments between them, they would happen in an even more fleeting place of hiding, and quickly.
Paula handles the potential loss of momentum by switching POV to characters who are still in danger, which works. Had the supporting characters been less interesting people, this could have backfired, but Paula pulls it off nicely.
There is a good twist in the finale that I wouldn't change, but it does have the effect of dimming the sense of victory ever so slightly. I won't say more specifically, just that I wanted the trouble to ramp up a little higher and the win to feel bigger.
All in all, this is a very good novel regardless of genre, and though I am not technically the intended market, I daresay a homerun for that market.
Well done, Paula!