Good afternoon, and welcome back to Day 4 of Angry Robot Week here at Beauty in Ruins, once again featuring Adam Christopher. We're kicked the day off with an interview, so now it's time to get into my review of Seven Wonders.
Read along, and when you're done, don't forget to check out the giveaway below and enter for a chance to win a paperback ARC copy of Seven Wonders.
Growing up, I was an absolutely huge fan of comic books. Every Wednesday and every Friday we'd either grab our bikes or hop on the bus downtown to pick up the newest releases. Although I was primarily a Marvel man (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Uncanny X-Men, Excalibur, and The Incredible Hulk were my must-haves), I regularly hopped shelves into DC territory or some of the independents. At some point, however, I began to lose interest. Part of it was frustration with the expensive gimmicks of variant covers, foil covers, bagged editions, etc, but a bigger part of it was sheer boredom. I got the point where I could recognize all the rehashed story lines, and the novelty of massive reboots quickly began to wear thin.
I've tried getting back into comics and graphic novels over the years, particularly with the Dark Tower adaptations and the comic book seasons of Buffy and Angel, but it just wasn't the same. I still like the stories, but the medium just didn't work for me anymore. So, with that in mind, the idea of a comic book novel began to seem very appealing.
Enter Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher - not the first comic book novel I've read, but certainly one of the strongest. The first thing that struck me about it, right from the opening chapters, is that this was a more realistic take on superheroes, and one seemingly tailored for a maturing audience. It's dark, a little gritty, and surprisingly bloody. People actually die, violently and permanently. More than that, it's a bit cynical and jaded, with a city being oppressed by the last remaining super-villain, and supposedly protected by a team of superheroes who aren't in any rush to put their lives on the line to stop each and every act of villainy being perpetrated.
Oddly enough, for a book called Seven Wonders, the heroes are the least interesting part of the novel. Instead, for me, it was the conflict between Tony and The Cowl that kept me reading. Here you have an ordinary guy slowly acquiring superpowers, freeing him from the shroud of terror under which he's lived for years, and the last remaining super-villain, just as slowly losing his superpowers, putting his ultimate end-game for San Ventura (and the Seven Wonders) in jeopardy. The balance between police drama and superhero drama was a nice touch as well, deliberately contrasting themes of heroism, responsibility, and accountability throughout.
I did say it's dark, gritty, cynical, and jaded, but it's also romantic (sometimes in a creepy sort of way), humorous (often in an ironic or sarcastic sort of way), and absolutely action-packed (with very real consequences to those actions). There is also a surprising amount of character development involved, with Tony nearly unrecognizable by the end, and The Cowl and Blackbird . . . well, I'll refrain from saying any more about that pairing, for fear of spoiling one of the most interesting developments in the story. Also, given that we're dealing with prose, and can't actually see the costumes, I must say Christopher does a solid job of differentiating the Seven Wonders themselves, which I expected to be a major challenge.
In terms of plotting, the book reads very much like a comic book, completely with chapter-ending cliffhangers and twists that seem to come out of nowhere. The same with the narrative, where dialogue 'bubbles' are regularly broken up with descriptive 'blocks' as we move from imaginary panel to panel. It's awkward at first, and has the potential to annoy or alienate some readers, but it also helps preserve that comic book feel.
If you like your superheroes all perfect and shiny, your mortality clear-cut, and the lines between good and evil explicitly defined, this may not be the novel for you. Similarly, if you're just looking for more of the same in terms of Dark Knight grimness and grittiness, this may take you in directions you're not comfortable going. However, if you're a comic book fan with an appreciation for all the different flavours of superheroes, and an avid reader with an appreciation for a novel that does something new (and does it well), then this is definitely worth a read.