Friday, March 5, 2021

Review: Penance, by Paula Richey

What can I say about Penance that I haven't already said about the rest of Silver Empire's Heroes Unleashed universe?

Quite a bit, actually. Much to my surprise.

The Story.

The "Prime" (The HUU's version of someone with powers) in this case is Penance Copper. At 17, she's been on the streets for most of her life. She's been raised by a street thug named Acid her entire life. Then the day comes that Acid asks her to take out a local hero named Justice. 

That's the last straw.

Unfortunately, this last mission from Acid leads Penance in the middle of an interstellar invasion by Kail-- a supply sergeant from another planet. His men need food and they need water. And the nearest planet to raid? Earth. And they have a place full of food and water. It's called a football stadium, and there's a game on, so there are plenty of hostages. 

And Penance is the only one who can get inside.

Hilarity ensues.

This story was just so well told, I breeze through more than half of it in a single night. Good plotting, action, and character. It's all well put together. 

The Characters

Penance is interesting. Because she's the Artful Dodger with superpowers, working for Fagan-as-super-villain. She's a character that has to think about using her superpowers--like used her electromagnetic powers and abilities to copy anything with an RFID chip (electronic keys, alarm system codes), or her plasma abilities to cook microwave popcorn in her hand. Also, the ability to shock someone back to life, something I want more electricity-based heroes to do (I think Endgame may have been one of the few times someone tried it). Paula even highlights how Penance can have these powers without cooking herself.

She's also stronger than the average bear (a literal bear). And she's Southern...By the time we get a quarter of the way through the book, Penance sounds and looks like Rogue, with additional powers that feel like "What if Jubilee was useful."

And yet, Penance isn't so overpowered that she overcomes anything that gets in her away. At least four times in the book she gets her ass kicked fairly thoroughly--once by simple science.

With Kail, our alien, it's interesting that his story could be easily summed up as "the quartermaster needed some lousy supplies," but boy, does that spiral. Seeing things through his eyes tells the reader more about his planet, his culture, and him, more easily than a chapter-long data-dump on societies. And the culture clash is as effective as Crocodile Dundee, if sometimes less funny.

Not to mention that limiting the POV to these two main characters highlights just how much one knows about the other, that even the other isn't aware of about themselves....

Yes, I think that sentence made sense. Honest.

And I like that Kail, as supply sergeant, makes his own clothing. And bookshelves. 

And the nicest thing? Kail even thinks like an alien. 

The World Building

Separating out the world building from the characters and the story required a crowbar in this instance. There are no data dumps here. There are no exposition paragraphs. There isn't even a chapter where Kail regales Penance with the exact nature of their cultural and societal differences. 

And it's unnecessary. Paula Richey spent the entire book worldbuilding. It's shown in almost ever interaction between the two, and their actions.

If David Weber could do this in his novels, they'd be at least 20% shorter.

The impressive thing is that Penance created and explained an entire alien civilization with stopping to spell out how it worked. And it works like Ming the Merciless learned to make an entire generation put themselves in debt, and be in chains forever. I didn't know he was a Democrat. Paula does a great job of making and unrepentant SOB you just want to see have a stake rammed through his heart.

And, at the same time, Penance spells out a lot of life on the streets for Heroes Unleashed. Every time I expect them to go bigger, they manage to do a lot with very little. Paula manages to take one element and write a good chunk of the book around it.

There are also at least two threads that tie Penance back to the original Heroes Fall book. 

Not to mention that I enjoyed having the alien invasion spun by the Men in Black as "he's a new supervillain. Nothing to see here." Seriously, if John Ringo did the politics of superpowers, this would be the series he lifted it from.

Not to mention that Paula has a grasp of technology no one points out. For example "your invisibility suit is nice, but what happens if it's really dusty?"

What's the politics?

There is only one way there is a political angle to this novel. Penance is reading a Bible throughout, because she's trying to learn about this Jesus person. I think that along will turn off certain readers. And we all know some of them, don't we?

Imagine if "Christian Fiction" only started having conversations about Jesus at natural points in the story.... like if an alien asked questions.


Penance was just plain fun. I can usually tell what writing tricks are executed when "This is the data dump. This is act one finale. This is how the slip in backstory." Not here. It's all smooth and effortless and makes writing look easy. Why couldn't I have written like this when I started.

And yes, this is labeled "YA." How? Why? Aside from the age of the characters, I can't really tell you. It's not like anything in the rest of the HUU has had egregious violence, or sex, or foul language. (And nothing has been as bad as the icicle in Die Hard 2, not even John Wick's pencil.) And, as one reviewer said of Narnia, "This is too good for children."

Anyway this book is fun, it's awesome, and you should buy it. Links are below.

Publisher link:
Amazon link

1 comment:

  1. Nice review!

    I read through Penance really quickly, too! Such a compelling story and a delight undeserving of the "YA" stigma, for sure.


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