I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not change how I feel about this book.
Title: Dreadnought (Nemesis, #1) by April Daniels
Release date: January 24th, 2017
Genre: Young Adult – Urban Fantasy, Superheroes
— TW for transphobia/queerphobia, outing without consent, f-slur, t-slur, mention of r*pe —
Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.
It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.
She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.
Hoo boy, this got MUCH more intense than I was expecting! I have to admit that I almost DNF’ed this book around 22% because I wasn’t meshing with it, but I’m really glad I decided to stick with this even though it took me a little bit to adjust, because dang, am I impressed. Dreadnought is your classic superhero origin story, but this time it’s got #ownvoices trans lesbian rep and all the fun (and really, really shitty) bits that come along with that. And it’s amazing.
What I liked:
Danielle is first and foremost a Strong Female Protagonist, and she shows it in a countless number of ways throughout the entirety of the story. I absolutely loved that this gives an authentic voice to a young trans lesbian girl in a genre where there are extremely few voices to accompany hers, and that this is a superhero story! For trans kids!! I don’t think a lot of people immediately understand how important this is, but it really made an impact on me and it’s one of the biggest reasons I picked up this book in the first place.
In addition to Danielle’s well-rounded, fully fleshed out, three-dimensional protagonist that my heart goes out to, this book also has a diverse cast of supporting characters (even though only 2 of them get the book equivalent of notable screen time, but that’s an issue for a couple paragraphs from now.) We also see an exploration of themes that are discussed at length, such as the realities of being a superhero in the modern world; transphobia, bullying, and abuse; sexism from the lens of a trans woman; government corruption and the impact that has on this modern world; and “but what if I don’t want to be the fictional equivalent of Supergirl and just want to be, y’know, Kara Danvers for a little while?”
There were a few issues I had with the pacing (see: it took me nearly 1/4 of the way into the book to start caring about what’s going on) but this was overshadowed by subtle yet smart worldbuilding and open-ended ending that leaves a lot of opportunity for future improvement, and made me even more excited for the sequel. April Daniels has a lot of potential as a writer, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next installation in this captivating plot line. I want to know what Nemesis is! What’s going to happen to the Legion! What about the class-like divide between superheroes?? There’s just so much that she can tackle, and I hope she gets to all of it and makes it work.
What I Disliked:
The biggest downsides to the book are in the supporting characters. Only two of the side characters see any kind of development past the halfway point of the book, and while what they do is crucial to the storyline and plot going forward, it would have been nice to see more of the Legion as a foil to the graycape lifestyle that Danielle leads with Calamity. There also isn’t a satisfying resolution to any of the characters besides Danielle, Calamity, and Doc Impossible, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a little bit of a letdown. It feels like we got a decent amount of setup with David, and while I’m not upset that he got kicked off the boat after calling Danielle the t-slur and saying he hopes she gets r*ped…okay, you know what, David can go fuck himself. But I’m still looking for more superhero exploration and maybe something with her parents that involves acknowledging their glaringly obvious domestic abuse issues.
One of the things I disliked but have hope for is Calamity losing her arm. I didn’t dislike this because she lost the arm (even though that is a serious, life-changing injury), but the beginnings of the End of the World trope that we see in books like Me Before You when it comes to acquiring a disability. I desperately don’t want her to fall into that pit, and I will fight tooth and claw against it.
Calamity, listen. These are your options:
- You get a cyborg arm installed. It won’t be the same as your old arm, obviously, but it’ll be pretty damn close. Don’t believe me? Well, you’re rolling in dough, so the cost of getting a new arm won’t be an issue, and the only “superhero” left alive is a DOCTOR who is PART ROBOT and BUILT HERSELF A NEW BODY AFTER HER PREVIOUS ONE WAS COMPROMISED.
- If you decide to keep it one-arm style, you can still do everything else you did before you lost your arm. You can drive your $4000-dollar motorcycle and shoot your $1100 guns (well, you’re going to need to replace all that after it got destroyed by Utopia, but again, you carry stacks of cash in your biker jacket). You can hug Danielle when y’all both need comforting. You can eat, sleep, pole-vault for the track team, do your funky gymnastics across city rooftops, even do your homework.
- Will you still be a superhero when you wake up tomorrow? Yes, you will! You’ll still be Calamity. You will seriously be able to do everything you could do with two hands, including saving the world. You literally pulled a gun on Danielle from your hospital bed. And you’re worried about not being able to fight supervillains any more? They’ll hesitate while trying to compute the fact you only have one arm and you can shoot them with the other. Because you’re a badass and your disability doesn’t define you.
Listen: losing a limb is a seriously traumatic injury. You’re not going to feel like the person you were before, and that comes with everything from phantom limb to PTSD. I would love to see this explored in the sequel to Dreadnought because it is a very serious thing to deal with, especially when you’re only 15. But I have a terrible feeling Daniels is going to handle this one like every other ableist disability trope across genres. I want to see Sarah battle with the depression and resentment and the adjustment process and come out on top. I want to see her embrace the fact she’s disabled and continue to kick ass & take names. I don’t want a magical solution to all her problems to drop down from the sky like the wish-fulfillment Danielle got. Explore this, April. Don’t go down the same route as everybody else.
Aside from that rant, I did really enjoy this book. Dreadnought is a new superhero that isn’t DC or Marvel, yet manages to take the best and the worst from those inspirations to create someone authentic and real, living inside the hearts of so many young trans & non-binary people out here. This reads a lot like a dream come true, and as much as I personally dislike the wish-fulfillment story, I know how important this is. I don’t want to take that away from people who need that little bit of light. I cannot wait to see where Danielle’s journey as Dreadnought goes, and wholeheartedly recommend giving this book a go.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!