I think the fact that I have this separate category on my blog specifically dedicated to her is proof that I’m a fan of Blake Northcott. But while I’ve enjoyed and reviewed her comic-book work here I should note that before she was a graphic novelist she was a prose novelist, and that’s where I first discovered her writing. It’s was October 26, 2013, when I read the following article on Bleeding Cool:
How I Pitched My Book To Mark Millar In An Elevator (And How You Can Rock A Quick Pitch, Too!)
This was about her Kickstarter campaign for her book, Assault or Attrition, which was a sequel to a book she’d already published called Arena Mode. I was intrigued, so I backed the project, opting for the pledge that would get me digital copies of both books. I discovered that she’d also already published another unrelated book, and so while I waited for the Kickstarter campaign to end I went on Amazon and bought that book, her very first novel: Vs. Reality. I read it couple of months later, while I was on a plane trip to visit some friends out of state. Reading it in one sitting, it made that 4 hour flight just fly by (no pun intended) and I’ve been a hardcore fan of Blake’s writing ever since.
I don’t even know exactly I’d describe this book properly. It’s a superhero/sci-fi/urban fantasy/action/thriller. Set in New York, the novel’s main protagonist is Donovan Cole (usually just referred to as “Cole”), a 27 year old Mixed Martial Artist. Formerly successful with an impressive record of 12 wins and 1 draw, once Cole suffered his first loss something happened to his confidence and he’s been on a losing streak ever since. When we meet him in the beginning of the novel he’s just suffering from his ninth straight loss, and everyone’s telling it’s time to pack it in before he gets permanently hurt. After the match, his buddy Todd Jennum, whom he calls “Jens”, tries to cheer him up by bribing their way into one of the hottest and most exclusive nightclubs in the city. At this club Cole meets a beautiful woman named Dia and hits it off with her, but before Cole can figure out what’s going on he finds he and Dia being chased outside by a huge German man and a short Japanese man who appear to posses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. And then Cole finds himself “Hulking out”, becoming bigger and stronger than he ever was, while Dia is ripping holes in fabric of reality that can transport them anywhere in the world.
Both Cole and us, the readers, are rapidly introduced to world where the impossible is happening on an increasing basis. It seems that in the past several years, random people across the world have been spontaneously manifesting reality-altering abilities. These abilities are generally “triggered” by some traumatic event (in Cole’s case, it was by being hit by the superhuman German man). The powers are temporary and require further triggers to reactivate, but it’s not always easy for the individuals to deliberately trigger themselves. So Dia’s roommate Brodie has developed a drug in the form of blue pill he calls MUSE. If you take one, it triggers the individual’s abilities.
But there also exists a secret organization that has been kidnapping the triggered individuals for nefarious purposes, while also covering up their existence from the general public, taking them somewhere only known as “the basement”. Dia, Brodie, and Dia’s sister Paige have been evading these people for years, the German and Japanese man are known as “collectors”, people who track and kidnap people like them. Dia and the others initially offer to help Cole hide with them, but when Cole realizes that the collectors have taken Jens and may torture or even kill him in order to get to Dia and Cole, he insists that they mount a rescue mission.
And that’s when shit gets weird.
The story moves at breakneck speed, with action, violence, and inventive uses of super-powers that you haven’t read of before. Blake’s narrative abilities help paint a vivid picture in the reader’s brain, making it feel as if you’re watching a movie (or reading a comic-book), whether it’s describing the physical appearance of the characters, or describing the different environments, from the streets of New York to the beaches of Hawaii. Cole is a perfect protagonist for a story like this, despite his MMA background his recent failures help paint him as a typical “everyman.” He often reacts the way we would likely react if we were in his shoes. We’re also introduced to a truly menacing villain in the form of a man named Govinda, whom Blake manages to portray as terrifying without being an over-the-top snarling super villain.
Admittedly, the premise has similarities to other stories, from the X-Men to Heroes to The Matrix, but it’s the execution of the ideas that makes this story unique and kept me hooked from the first page to the last. And there are several mis-directions and plot-twists in the story before you reach that final page.
My only minor complaint would be that while this is book is set in the then-present of 2011 (specifically it takes place over the course of three days in August) it’s not exactly our world. This takes place in one of those “the future liberals want” memes. The major nations of the world have joined something called The New World Council (which meets in the World Trade Center, whether it was never destroyed or if it was but then later rebuilt isn’t revealed), firearms are banned (not even the police use them), there’s global nuclear disarmament, communism is gone, even China is a democracy now, & there’s universal healthcare. Little bits and pieces of this new world status quo are sprinkled throughout the novel, and the problem is that it’s a fascinating concept that isn’t really explored in this novel as much as it could have been.
Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I believe that if you love super-powers and action stories, you’ll love this too.
Chacebook rating: FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Categories: BLAKE NORTHCOTT