Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Genre: Science fiction, superhero
Rating: ****
Pages: 408
Series: Stand alone
For geeky homeschooler Maisie Danger Brown, astronaut boot camp is the chance of a lifetime. Not only does she get the chance to travel up the Beanstalk, the world's first space elevator, but she gets to make real friends for once. Maybe even a boyfriend. But Dr. Bonnie Howell, mastermind behind the space elevator, has something more than a field trip planned. While in space she exposes Maisie and her friends to alien technology. They're granted the superpowers they need to save the planet from extraterrestrial invasion. But when those powers lead to the death of a teammate, the group is shattered. How can they protect the planet when they can't trust each other?
Maisie receives 'techno' powers, the ability to understand and manipulate all machines. She builds herself a robotic arm within a day and a jet pack in under a week. Later on she acquires other powers, but you aren't allowed to know about them yet.
Villains include Wilder (Maisie's love interest-or is he?), GT (Wilder's evil billionaire father), and an unnamed species of ghostlike pink aliens. It's the aliens that Maisie fights at the climax. This should make them the Big Bad. But even though the threat of alien invasion hangs over Maisie's head for about three hundred pages, more focus is given to her enemies here on Earth. The aliens cannot communicate in their natural form, so neither Maisie or the reader gets to know them. They have no name. They have no leader. Even their bodies are intangible.
Wilder, on the other hand, gets far more character development. A fight with two thirds of the way into the book has enough BANG and POW to be a climax. Yet the story marches on. His character is the most intriguing. You've heard characters billed as 'the love interest you probably can't trust'. I know you have because I have too. Initially I thought Wilder would be one of those. He'd brood for a while, probably make some poor choices, but I'd know all along he was a good guy.
That didn't happen. Halfway through the book, Wilder makes a startling choice that plunges him headfirst into Unlikable Land. No, not a simple betrayal or something like that. Something wrong. The reader spends the rest of the novel wondering, "Is he trustworthy? Will he get redeemed? Can he possibly be a worthy love interest after that?" Even after finishing the book, I'm not so sure I like him. But maybe that's a good thing.
Wilder's definitely the most intriguing character here. Another favorite is Howell, the happy-go-lucky, frizzy haired, juggler/scientist who's way too casual about saving the world. Maisie's socially awkward friend, Luther, gets some good scenes.
Then there's Maisie's parents. This is her story, so she has to be the hero, but she doesn't hide her powers from them. When the world's falling to pieces she runs to them. They may need rescuing occasionally but they're behind their daughter every step of the way.
You know those short novels that get smushed together so you can carry one book around instead of two? That's how this felt. Dangerous read more like a trilogy. At 400 pages it certainly couldn't have been split into three full length books. It is divided into three parts, though, each around 130 pages. The first one's called Fireteam, followed by Runaways, and concludes with Peligrosa, the Spanish word for Dangerous and Maisie's nickname. Each part has its own mini plot structure. After the first and second mini-climaxes, we get lulls before the action rises up again. This can be disorienting.
Dangerous is one of the few novels I've seen that attempts the superhero genre in book form. Familiar elements like sacrifice, secrets, and the importance of teamwork are played with. The story structure is weird and some elements could've definitely been expounded upon rather than squeezed into one book. Dangerous will appeal to superhero lovers and sci fi fans just looking for a good story.

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