I had an… interesting time this past week, trying out a fair number of new books and anime series. One of the books I came across while at work at the library was A.J. Menden’s Tekgrrl, which at first glance seemed to be an interesting take on the superhero genre, having a tech wizard hero who got her smarts from alien experimentation.
I got about a hundred pages in before I realized it was actually a sequel to another book, Phenomenal Girl 5. This is where things get a bit weird. I figured the library would have the first book since it had the second, but I couldn’t find it on the shelf. Unfortunately a lot of fantasy (and a bit of sci-fi) gets labeled as general fiction for whatever reason (especially urban fantasies involving vampires) I checked there, with no luck. Finally I checked the computer, only to discover that Phenomenal Girl 4 was listed as a Romance novel. Now, I have nothing against Romance novels in general, (though I love making fun of the bad titles so many seem to end up with, the current ‘winner’ being One Bite Stand) but they definitely are not the kind of books I read. Ever. Against my better judgment I decided to bite the bullet and read it anyway, partly because I hate reading books out of order and partly because I wouldn’t put it past the first book to be the wrong labeled one. (And if not, at least the readers can have a laugh at my misfortune)
Thankfully it turned out to be a fairly bland romance novel, if not particularly good. Phenomenal Girl 5 deals with the apprenticeship of the titular hero, gifted with flight and super strength. Being a romance she of course she falls for her trainer, a hero who reincarnates instantly upon death as a new 20 year old, in addition to being the strongest mage in the world. The overarching plot is moderately entertaining, a typical super villain end the world plot, one that hinges on the involvement of Phenomenal Girl 5 the “innocent soul” and her mentor, the good man with the black soul. There are a few errors in the plot, but nothing major. My real two complaints are that the author has no grasp on writing action, though at least she knows this and avoids including it as much as possible, a hard task in a super hero novel. The other is that the internal monologue of the protagonist is really, really, annoying. She thinks (and occasionally acts) like a hormonal teenager, and it gets old very quick. It could be worse though, at least from my perspective. Were it a movie Phenomenal Girl 5 would rate at most PG-13, so I’m thankful for small favors.
Tekgrrl is definitely the better of the two novels, though it still has its problems. There is still the romantic aspect to it, though much less pronounced than in the first. As I mentioned above the protagonist, the hero Tekgrrl, fights crime with devices built using alien knowledge and ingenuity. There are actually two major plots in this novel, one dealing with the consequences of Tekgrrl’s time with the aliens, the other fallout with the new government overseer of hero groups. The narration of battles is still a bit spotty, but does improve. The reality of the whole alien situation even managed to surprise me, which sadly doesn’t happen often anymore.
In the end though, I can’t really recommend these books. I enjoyed reading them, but the flaws overbalance the good things of the novels. I will recommend watching out for the author in the future: If her writing improves as much between her second and third novel as it did between the first two her next work should be worth reading.
[tags]A.J. Menden, super hero books[/tags]