After the Golden Age (Carrie Vaughn)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
After the Golden Age is a contemporary fantasy story set in a comic book style city featuring the powerless adult child of the city’s penultimate superhero group.  I really found this to be a fun book.  The superhero genre seems to be spilling into just about every medium besides comic books nowadays, but this is probably the best adaptation I have seen for making superheros feel organic and like something that could actually be part of everyday life.  The characters are mostly well developed and interesting.  The plot has a few issues (uniting the protagonist’s day-to-day,  introducing new characters, and the overarching storyline), but the book still reads well even if the flow isn’t the smoothest.  The title is a bit misleading, since I would consider the superheros much too complex and angsty to have anything to do with the Golden Age comic book heroes, but I guess it at least indicates that this is a super hero comic themed book.  I would definitely recommend After the Golden Age.  There is a little bit of sex and violence in it, but other than that possible objection, pretty much anyone should enjoy this book.

Greater Detail:
Celia West is the utterly normal adult daughter of the city’s two most powerful superheroes.  For her own emotional and physical safety, she tries to keep her distance from her taciturn and difficult parents.  When she is kidnapped for the 7th time in an attempt to manipulate her parents, she finds herself at the center of a plot to destabilize the city.  She soon finds herself forced to ask the question: can a woman who has resigned herself to a life of unimportance rise up to the challenge of living up to her legacy and preventing disaster?

This book is at its core a fairly cerebral and psychological look at the superhero genre.   There aren’t any high flying action packed fights or harrowing super powered escapes from diabolical death traps.  You instead get an in-depth look at a woman who is raised surrounded by exceptional people and finds herself perpetually falling short of their inflated expectations.  The book is mostly her journey to find a place for herself while coming to terms with the fact that she will in some ways always be in her parents’ shadows.  I wouldn’t have turned up my nose if the author had chosen to include a little more beat ‘em up action, but I have to respect the fact that the execution of this more cerebral approach was excellent overall.

The characters are fairly good.  The protagonist is thoughtful and thought provoking in her struggles.  I didn’t really find any instances where the characters act strangely just for the sake of progressing the plot.  Everyone has fairly clear motivations and acts in ways attempting to fulfil them.  There are a few characters that make seemingly strange decisions, but things always work out so that their decisions were correct in the context of the setting, so I can’t fault the author.  It’s nice to see a story not driven by conflicts generated by people being stupid and making mistakes and instead having competent characters that come into conflict with each other because their motivations are different.

The plot and storyline are probably the weakest part of the book.  Neither are bad; it’s just that it seems like there are quite a few asides that have more to do with character introduction and development rather than contributing to the progression of the story.  That said, the story does move along at a decent pace, and I was always entertained, even if some of the material was not strictly necessary.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I can’t think of any other superhero novels that I particularly liked, so I will have to settle for a comparison to something that feels similar even if the genre is a little different.  After the Golden Age had the consistent feel of a fairly ordinary, almost powerless person who has grown accustomed to living in an extraordinary world.  This reminded me a bit of The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, which I also liked a great deal; although the setting is more creepy sci-fi rather than superhero fantasy, I think someone liking one would probably like the other.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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