Jack King seems like a normal guy. He works at a bookstore, has a beautiful girlfriend, and loves photography. But he isn’t normal. Not by a long stretch. He could blow up half this city in the blink of an eye.
It was with this simple tease, just a few short lines, that Raymond M. Rose first captured his attention.Without knowing anything more about it, The Fire Inside immediately slipped into the depths of my towering review pile, just waiting for its chance to see the light of day - or, as the case may be, light of my new Kindle Glo!
Stylistically, the novel challenged me a bit, requiring a bit of persistence to get beyond the sometimes awkward dialogue, irregular word choices, and oddities of grammar. It felt like the manuscript could have used one more round of editing and polishing to smooth out the rough edges, but while it tried my patience early on, it (thankfully) never exhausted it.
Having said that, this was an exceptionally fun read, and one that pretty well captured the spirit of what a superhero novel should be. With many similar novels I've read over the last few years, the trend seems to have been to dress up, modernize, and rationalize all the joy out of the comic book inspiration. I think that's why I struggled so with Myke Cole's first Shadow Ops novel, ultimately relegating it to the DNF pile, while so many peers were gushing over it. I don't want a superhero novel that struggles to attain some level of plausibility - just accept that you've suspended my disbelief, and entertain me.
That's that Rose has done here with The Fire Inside, letting his characters (and their respective powers) shine, free of any artificial guilt restraint. Of course, it helps that they have a solid core story to work around, with a central mystery that invites the reader to play along and try to out-sleuth the characters. I suspect most readers will guess the identity of the supervillain before the characters, but that's all part of the fun. The liberal sprinkling of 'geek' nods is a bit of a distraction, in that it so often pulls you out of the story with either an ah-hah laugh or a knowing smirk, but it shows a love for the genre that can't be ignored.
Are the characters a bit too perfect, a bit too attractive, and bit too good to be true? Sure, but that's precisely what we want our superheroes to be. This is a comic book without the panel illustrations, but one that provides enough detail to allow the reader to imagine their own illustrations. Some readers may feel there's a bit too much exposition, with Rose struggling to pain too much of a picture which each new character introduction or scene change, but think of it in terms of a comic book, with those transitional 'blocks' of text to carry you through, and it all feels quite natural.
Overall, this is a fun, fast-paced, action-packed adventure with enough backstory and character development to really engage the reader. While not perfect - there are a few plot holes or inconsistencies that nagged at me - I'd more than curious to see where Rose takes the Sidekicks saga next.