“Sweet Dreams are Made of Teeth”

Richard Roberts

I have to admit, right here at the beginning, that I didn’t finish this book. Which is generally grounds for disqualification from my writing a review, because I can’t exactly have a fully formed opinion based on an unfinished book!1 I’m making an exception this time, though, both because of the quality of the writing and because the reason I didn’t finish it.

Let’s start with the latter: this book is creepy. Read the title; that alone should’ve warned you going in. It’s a book about nightmares. And I… am not at all a horror person. My sister tried to convince me to watch The Haunting of Hill House on the grounds that “it’s not scary, it’s sweet!” and she was absolutely wrong. The first couple episodes now permanently occupy space in my brain, lurking there to pop back up and make sure I can’t sleep. My brain’s repository of nightmare fodder is already much fuller than I’d like it to be, and will gladly expand to make room for more; I do not want to give it that opportunity.

But the former, oh, the former. I really wanted to read this whole book. I mentioned earlier that it’s about nightmares; what really made it shine, in the amount of creepy that I made it through before I had to give up, was how, exactly, it’s about nightmares.

Each of the characters we meet early on is a specific nightmare. They have names, but they’re shorthand, because these are conceptual characters. The protagonist goes by Fang, but really what he is is running and running, and it’s right behind you, all you can see is a glimpse of teeth, and you keep running but you can never get away. We meet him hanging out with his friend Jeff — a little boy, well-dressed, blond hair, sitting quietly eating, and everything seems fine but then you get up close and see what he’s eating, and what his teeth look like. There’s a love interest, of course, and frankly I didn’t make it far enough to know if she’s got a name, but what she is is a long hallway in a decrepit house. eyes open in the walls when you aren’t looking, but they hide when you try to catch them staring. you walk past dozens of rooms but never find an exit. sometimes, in the hall, you see statues; people, frozen in the act of trying to escape the walls. you’re never sure if there in the same place or if they’ve moved, changed positions. in the distance, faint sobbing. if you walk far enough, you find her—a girl in a dusty dress, weeping quietly into her hands. she doesn’t look up when you enter the room, doesn’t seem to hear you at all. if you get close, you can see she has no eyes.

It’s a book about nightmares, about what they’re thinking when you’re caught up in a nightmare, about what they do in their spare time. And it all has that dreamlike quality to it, that sense that you can turn a corner and find yourself somewhere completely different. That things don’t have to make logical sense, they just have to be able to string together enough of a story that you don’t realize you’re asleep.

That’s what really captivated me about the book, and what kept me trying to fight through my natural distaste for horror. I wish I could’ve finished it, and at some point I may come back to chip away at it some more, but for now I had to give up. But if you, unlike me, can tolerate being creeped out—or, god help you, enjoy it—then I absolutely recommend it. I really have no idea where the plot was going, or what happens next, but I did like the setting and the way the characters were described. It was interesting. Give it a go.2

  1. Or, at least, not one that I think is worth sharing; “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” applies to book reviews, too.
  2. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.

“Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Work for a Supervillain”

Richard Roberts

I consistently forget how much I like Richard Roberts’ books. They’re a really excellent take on the superhero genre, embracing the ridiculousness of the whole thing while at the same time doing an excellent job of exploring some of the implications of living in a world that regularly has said ridiculous things happening. And, even better, doing things that would only work in the written form—there’s a truly delightful bit with a character named Retcon that I can’t imagine working in any format except first-person-written. A bit of their introduction, roughly paraphrased:

“You’re wasting your time, Retcon never comes to Chinatown.”

“Normally I don’t, but once I’d read that letter, I’d been here all day.”

And, beyond that little bit of messing with tenses to establish their power, you get the only-in-writing aspect: every time they speak, we get the “this is the first time I’ve seen this person, let me describe” them happening over again, and they’re described completely differently each time. (You may not the ‘they/them’ pronouns—the book doesn’t use those, but does switch between ‘he/him’ and ‘she/her’ a couple times.)

And that? That’s delightful. A character whose power is that they’re constantly being retconned? Just, chef’s kiss, beautiful, I love it.

As I said, I really like Roberts’ writing. It’s fun, and light, without being vapid. This book is nominally eighth in the series, but it’s eighth in the same way that, say, a new Marvel movie is the hundredth Marvel movie: sure, if you’ve seen the others, you get a bit more background on people, but it’s not required to understand what’s going on. So, if you haven’t read any of the others, this is a pretty solid jumping-in point. Give it a go.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

“Please Don’t Tell My Parents You Believe Her,” or, “a much better end than I was expecting”

Richard Roberts
This is another book that I put off reading for a while. I knew going in that it was the last in the series — Roberts’ blog made that pretty clear — and then, shortly after I bought it, his publisher went under (or something? I’m unclear) and seemed to pretty effectively tank any hope for future works in the amazing world he’s built here.1
And that’s what always shines to me about his books: the world-building. Roberts has a gift for showing without telling, and manages to perfect balance explaining a little bit and leaving a bit to the imagination. One of my favorite scenes in “… You Believe Her” was Penny, sitting on a train, watching a couple boys study. It’s just that one of them was using his telekinesis to levitate the book instead of holding it with his hands. And she goes off on a little tangent, thinking about the statistics of superpowers, and we find out that the superheroes and supervillains are the statistical outliers, while there are also sorts of normal people who use their powers to… not wear spandex and beat each other up. To study. To do their jobs. To make music, or build cool computers.
That’s what I love about the series. It’s a great big world, and Roberts wants to follow the same “but what about-“ trail of implications that I always do.
It’s also hilarious, if my gushing over the world building hasn’t sold you. This book introduces Gerty the Animatronic Goat, who I described to my friend as “the single best comic-relief character I’ve ever read.” It’s silly, and wholesome, and my jaw is a little sore from how much I smiled while I was reading the book.
And the thing is, Gerty is present throughout the book, and it’s necessary. She’s comic relief, because what’s actually happening in the plot is heavy. It’s probably a requirement to read the previous book first, to be able to follow what’s going on, as it starts off pretty in the middle of things.
It’s dark and sad, and happy and silly. It’s an excellent read. Check it out.2

  1. Happy follow-up, though: I believe he’s since got the rights sorted out enough that he can resume his plans to write more in this world. 
  2. And join me in reading Roberts’ new book, in a totally different setting. I had the chance to read an early-release version of the first couple chapters a while back, and I’ve been looking forward to the full novel ever since. Hopefully I don’t take quite as long to get around to reading it as I did this one. 

“Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Have A Nemesis,” or, “seriously just read the series it’s delightful”

First, a disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book (prior to the release) provided I’d write a review of it.1 That said, I was planning to buy the book and write a review of it when it came out, so I’m fairly sure my opinion of it is safe from being affected by the Free Stuff, but still, it’s good to make these things clear.
I’ve reviewed at least one of Roberts’ books before, and a short story or two, but I think my love for this series actually predates my hobby of writing book reviews for everything I read. So, first things first: if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series, go do that. Like, right now. Because, seriously, they’re fun. It’s exactly my aesthetic in what I want from media: young people with superpowers, and some fun exploration of how that world works. This one is one of my favorite: the superhuman community has a self-policing thing going on, with a core rule of “don’t get personal.”2 Which is fascinating, really; I love that sort of stuff, just explorations of how the world would have to be different to not be super different from a bunch of people having superpowers.
This one deals with some leftover plot stuff from earlier in the series, and it was really nice to see those things get wrapped up in a good way.3 And it provides some solid lead-up to the next book in the series, which I’m quite excited for. I think that’s my biggest problem with this one, actually: the rest of the series has had a solid “monster of the week” feel to it – not exactly a ‘monster of the week,’ but that same idea of being a self-contained thing. This one is clearly working to tie together the whole series, instead – the end is really leading into the next book, and the first half is, plot-wise, devoted to wrapping up stuff from earlier in the series.4
Which isn’t precisely a bad thing; the overarching plot has been very slowly working towards something. I guess I’m slightly irritated that the whole “time to tell the parents” plot that the book felt like it was building up to is getting pushed to the next book, at the earliest, but at very least it means I’m guaranteed at least one more book in the series, so I’ll call it a win.
End result: it wasn’t perfect, but it gave me a whole lot of what I love about the series, so I’m quite happy, and I’m quite happy to recommend the book to you, dear reader.

  1. Don’t be too excited for me, this isn’t a ‘you’re a Real Book Reviewer’ moment; I follow the author’s blog, and I’ve read one or two advanced chapters from this book and a couple of the others that get posted there. The publisher wanted a few early reviews, which resulted in a “comment your email address if you’d like an advanced review copy!” post, and I commented my email address. Still, it’s cool! 
  2. As a fun bonus, one of the books in the series covers how this system was created, and while it follows a different group of characters than the rest of the series, it’s just as much fun. 
  3. It’s difficult to do these reviews without giving away spoilers, sometimes, and a lot of the time I feel like I wind up being too vague, but I have a deep hatred for spoilers so I’m fairly okay with that result. 
  4. That said, I specified ‘plot-wise’ because, by volume, most of the first half of the book is devoted to the sort of “this is what superheroes do when they’re not being superheroes” stuff that I love

The Indomitable Ten

Okay you all know by now that I am obsessed with superhero media. It’s, like, my Thing. So when I saw that there was an anthology of superhero1 novellas out? I jumped right on that.
So, as I usually do for anthologies and other collections, I’m going to break it up into a series of short reviews.

My Big, Fat, Accidental Superheroine Wedding

Autocorrect doesn’t approve of ‘superheroine’ but it does approve of ‘superhero.’ Sexist.
Anyhow, this one was a little weird – it was very much focused on a specific subculture, one that I know next to nothing about. In that, it was a bit hard to relate to, but I think that’s okay- like, oh no, however shall I deal with media that doesn’t revolve around me, a white male? So yeah, I’m fine with that part. The actual superhero content of it was a bit odd, though- the main character is basically a deity, after she and her fiancé both wound up in an accident in the Large Hadron Collider that left them able to control their bodies at what appears to be an atomic level. And they’re on the run from the government. Which makes for an interesting story, overall, but I dunno, something about this one just didn’t click for me. Oh well, it was still interesting, and the ending scene was a really good one.

The World, My Enemy

This was a delight to read. It had hints of some of the non-Discworld Terry Pratchett stuff, in the way it looked at the world, and oh man did I love it.2 The main character is an Austrian super-genius, trying to be a super-villain, and… kinda sucking at it. He’s a very millennial type of villain – tons of support from his parents, a lot of potential, and just… not using it at all. And the other characters that make up the setting, from the Nemesis figure to whatever-the-girl-is3 to the cowardly boss- they’re all wonderful, executed delightfully well. It’s a silly little story and I absolutely love it.

Summer of Lob

This is actually the reason I bought this book- I adore Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents… series of books, and I saw through his twitter that this book featured a novella set in the same universe. And it was everything I wanted – a short, sweet story, following Bull in his younger days. As a bonus, it gave the background for one of the characters I wanted to know more about, and introduced a few more who I’d also like to see more of. Basically, this alone made the book worth buying to me, and the rest was a nice bonus.

Weeper of Blood

I’m assuming this was part of a series, because there’s way too much setting for it to be a standalone short story. To the point that I’m still unclear on some of the stuff – things about the various characters were hinted at well enough that I’ve got an idea, but the world itself is a mystery – is it an alternate timeline, or set in the future, or what? It was really hard to tell, and I’d like to read more to find out.
The story itself was pretty good- a little sad, definitely, but a nice ‘redemption’ arc present as well, so I did like that. I definitely want to see more of this world, get a bit more of the background, though, because I have so many questions.

Seven Seconds

File this one under “have to read more.” Like, I actually just took a break from writing this so I could go google the author and find out if he’s written more.4
There was absolutely everything I want in a superhero story: an interesting main character, and a look at what people with superpowers do if they’re not being superheroes. Plus a superhero team that went insane and became villains, some high tech gadgetry being used, and a wonderful concept of superpowers that give the story its title. Another one in the category of “I would recommend buying this book on the merits of this story alone.”

Friend or Foe

Oh my god I am so confused. I really can’t tell from reading it if this one is part of a series or not- like, the amount of questions I was left with afterwards makes me want it to be, but it was written in such a way that it could believably be a standalone that was supposed to leave the reader with questions. If that was the goal, boy did it ever work. The whole thing basically takes place in the aftermath of a Final Showdown sort of fight, with only allusions to what actually took place there. The way it switched back and forth between two characters was pretty interesting – clearly, one of them was the villain, but not in a very strong way. It was more of a… misunderstood genius, kind of thing, though with a touch of willing sociopathy, so I dunno. It was interesting but a bit aggravating at times.

Night Stalker: A Tale from the Tome of Bill

I wish I could say I liked this one, because the story was kinda interesting, but I didn’t. It felt like it was written by the kind of person who tries to defend the whole “Spider-Woman butt in the air” pose: that’s to say, delighting in that gamer-nerd stereotype, “I live in my parents basement playing WoW all day” sort of humor. The main character spends a while complaining about being “friendzoned.” Blah.

Goon #3

This made me think of Code 8, a cool little short film. They’re the same sort of setting, to the degree that I could pretty reasonably believe one inspired the other. Basically, a world where something like the Superhuman Registration Act of Marvel’s Civil War5 passed, and now the superhuman folks are living with the aftermath. Yeah, there’s some superheroes, and they’re distinctly following a legal process created around that idea: but there’s also regular people who got ground under the wheels of bureaucracy. The main character spent a couple years in prison after “robbery with a deadly weapon.” Which, yeah, a reasonably jail sentence- except for the fact that the robbery was him holding his hand in his pocket so it looked like he was holding a gun. The ‘deadly weapon’ was the fact that he’s got super-strength. The fact that he never mentioned that to the person he was robbing apparently never came up in the trial, or didn’t bother the people sentencing him at all.
Which is a wonderful touch, because there’s people like that in the real world, people who get ground down by the way the system works. And I love that sort of sad realism in superhero content.6

The Incident on Orion

This one was somewhat reminiscent of Invincible, a fun little comic that I read a while back. Basically, it’s the ‘superman’ type hero, except Krypton hasn’t exploded. Instead, Krypton has, as was bound to happen with a society of supermen, become the seat of a sprawling galactic empire.
In this one, as with Invincible, it’s a bit of a vicious one – survival of the fittest was heartily adopted by that empire, and you wind up with people fighting for their right to live in the empire. And once they’ve earned that, they set out to annihilate everyone that stands in the way of that empire, even if ‘standing in the way’ is defined as ‘within 10 light years of somewhere we might want to be one day.’ Basically, gleeful genocide.
There’s a lot of Roman Empire present in this, both in naming and in the way the mythology interacts with the characters. It was really interesting to read, a sort of sad and hopeful tale. I think I’d like to read more.

Sinergy: Immortal Sin

Strange and interesting. The superpowers are a lot lighter a touch here, they still distinctly present. What was more interesting was the backdrop: there’s an Order, it’s apparently been around for a couple thousand years, and it’s somehow affiliated with the catholic church, or christianity as a whole? I’m still a bit unclear. But it was a cool mythology, definitely, and I want to see more of it, because I do love that ‘ancient order’ kind of stuff.
The story itself was… really sad, actually. I think a single character had a ‘happy’ ending, and that was “woke up with no memory of any of this happening, twenty minutes outside of Prague, with nothing but their passport and a plane ticket,” so… not a super happy ending, at that. Still, interesting.

And there we go, that’s the book reviewed. I quite liked it, and would absolutely recommend it. Go read it.

  1. Well, superhero and supervillain. Super-being? 
  2. If you ever see “Lost Terry Pratchett novel found; it’s about superheroes” in the news, find a way to tell me gently because I might have an aneurism from how excited I’d be about that. 
  3. Certainly not a love interest- somewhere between ‘best friend’ and ‘motivational speaker,’ I suppose? 
  4. He has, and I’m going to read it sometime soon, I hope. 
  5. The comic book version, not the movie version, which I still haven’t seen, so if you try to tell me spoilers I will have you executed
  6. It’s so much better than the ‘realism’ of movies these days, where they think that making everything dark and gritty makes it more ‘realistic’ somehow. Y’all have entirely missed the point, Hollywood. 

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen

I started reading this book yesterday about dinnertime, and I’d finished it before I went to bed. Which isn’t to say that it’s a short book, because it isn’t. It’s a dangerous book, because I couldn’t put it down. I adore this whole series, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting this one since I found out the author was working on it.1 And, to be honest, it was everything I was hoping for.
The second book in the series had a lot of Plot going on, to the point where it got to be too much: it got a little bit hard to follow, and I’m still a bit unclear on who some of the various factions were and what, exactly, they wanted. This went the opposite direction: there was no huge story arc throughout the piece, just a sort of “this is the life of a super-powered middle-schooler” story. Which was wonderful. I didn’t want a big story arc going on, I just wanted to experience more of this crazy chaotic world that the characters live in.2
We got a lot more of Bull in this one, and some explanation of what, exactly, is going on with Claudia, which I thought made for a beautiful little plotline, there. It was sad and sweet, and really helped to humanize Claudia, explain what’s going on with her life.
Penny, the delightfully manipulative main character, got some more of the spotlight for inheriting her mother’s (apparently non-super-powered) manipulation-streak, and for winning the “superpower genetic lottery” or some such. It was really cool, actually, to see her start getting the sort of public respect that she deserves, though not really for what she’s actually been doing.
And, of course, there were some really touching scenes with her and her family. Which is, basically, exactly what I want from a book: superhero families.3
I could not have loved this book more. I wish there was more of it. Go. Read. Now. It’s spectacular.

  1. The author’s blog is a great source of that sort of information. 
  2. One of my favorite things in the series is the description of the various video games the characters play – I really want Roberts to write a game at some point, preferably with a lot of control over the gameplay mechanics, because they all sound so fun
  3. I’ve got strange reading preferences but I STICK TO THEM, dangit.