Spencer is not a normal nineteen-year-old. He’s the son of the world’s most powerful Augment – a superhuman solder called the Crimson Mask. His life has been in a constant state of upheaval. He’s changed his name so many times he can’t really keep track of what it really is. He’s moved from city to city, changed his schools, and left friends behind, all in order to keep both him and his mother safe. When your father is a superhero, your family becomes a target for his enemies. His father’s nemesis, the Black Beetle, has already struck at the family, kidnapping Spencer’s mother and forcing Spencer to hide in a secret arctic bunker.
Locked in the “Icehole” for his own safety, Spencer has nothing but time on his hands. Tinkering with the equipment and computers in the bunker is his only relief from the boredom and solitude. It’s also the only outlet for his obsession to rescue his mother. Other than a sharp mind and impressive electronic skills, he has no augmented super-powers to fall back on. When he’s forced to flee the bunker, he’s launched into a shady world of government secrets, technological warfare, and a race to save his mother from a psychopathic super-villain.
When you pick up this book, brace yourself. You’re in for a hell of a story. The mysteries, failures, twists and obstacles that keep it moving from start to finish. Although the main character is an older teen, I hesitate to call this a young adult novel — there’s plenty of appeal for all readers.
Most of the story is told from Spencer’s point of view. He’s a smartass with the intelligence to back up his snark, and enough technical skills to know when he’s out of his league. His voice comes through loud and clear. Whether it’s his frustration with his distant father, or his obsession for an underdog baseball team, he is as genuine as any other young man of my acquaintance. Seeing the events unfold through his eyes sent me deep into the characters fears, dreams and disasters.
Superhero stories commonly fall on the shoulders of the heroes themselves. We see very little of the Crimson Mask, and when we do, he’s in the role of an overbearing father. Spencer is no slacker. He’s fully equipped to take out a killer robot, rescue himself, and assemble his own team of experts to fight back. Among them are Emily, a researcher who worked with his father on another mission, and his high school friend and fellow computer hacking genius, Eric.
Did I say killer robots? Well yes, of course. No superhero tale would be complete without cinematic steel-ripping block-busting action, and nothing creates panic and destruction quite like giant killer robots. Missiles, flying armor with an arsenal of weapons, remote-controlled destructive drones — yes, there are explosions and chases and nail-biting action sequences here. The villain is a master of mecha, and uses his strengths to great advantage.
I’m particularly glad that the villain also gets his fair share of exposure in the story. When the bad guy is “on stage” the author shifts to third-person perspective. I noticed it right away, but it’s consistent through all the villain’s chapters, so it’s clearly a point of sytle. I think it was a smart choice. As I read the book, I strongly identified with Spencer, and the perspective shift was a clever way to keep readers from getting too close to sympathize with the adversary.
The elements of science fiction are also at play here. The Augment super heroes were created in government programs and shady research centers all over the world. They were intended to be super-soldiers, military weapons in human form. I can’t say much more than that without giving spoilers, but the details are in the book. After a few passages sent me to the web for a quick geek-check, I was pleased to see that the science in this fiction was plausible. I’m certain that someone more savvy with cryptography might find some flaw in the technology, but for the average reader like me, I was never buried under a pile of tech jargon.
Overall, Crimson Son is a solid, entertaining novel. It’s well-written, well-edited and professionally presented. The story works on many levels. It’s more than just a “superhero” novel, it has emotional subplots that touch on coming of age, seeing your parents as other adults, trusting friends, and the unpredictability of the human spirit. My only tiny quibble is the stereotyping of the fat computer geek who lives in his mother’s basement. I’ll get over it.
I recommend this book to fans of superhero movies and comics, people who enjoy near-future SF and suspense-filled adventure. I enjoyed the immersion into Spencer’s world, joined the fights right along with him, and marveled at the secrets he uncovered. This book releases on June 14, so pick up a copy for a fantastic summer read.