Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Romance of Capes: Playing With Fire

The reason wives and girlfriends will agree to see this movie.
This week I will be leaving my isolated little igloo once again to see a movie, this time Captain America: The First Avenger. This is my fiance's pick, and since he was such a good sport about Harry Potter I'm doing what I can to get excited for it. I have seen a good number of superhero movies over the last several years. I've played a few of the video games (with very little skill). I can't seem to get into reading the actual comic books, nerd though I am. It's a shame because when it comes down to it, I really like the idea of masked crime fighters.

I've often remarked that superheroes and the heroes and heroines of urban fantasy have a lot in common. In both cases, you most often have an otherwise normal person who develops or discovers
superhuman powers. They learn to use those powers to apprehend/maim/kill the bad guy(s) and save the day. There might be a romance or romances. The only big difference is the clothes. Comic heroes get elaborate costumes and masks. Urban fantasy heroes wear a great deal of black and leather in the name of practicality (anyone who has ever actually worn leather knows that it's NOT practical, it is sweaty). Costumes function to maintain the heroes secret identity, and also serve as a symbol in themselves. Apparently maintaining an alter ego is not an issue in urban fantasy?

I really wish there were more novels that had that dramatic superhero feel. I want a book with masks and capes, over the top villains, sidekicks, illogical superpowers, and lots of gadgets. Recently, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation gave me the masks and the heroics, but it's not quite the same. So I've been searching for good superhero novels. While I dig through my TBR pile for possibilities (I have a few) I thought I'd share one that I read awhile back: Playing With Fire by Gena Showalter.

Basically it's the first person tale of Belle, an ordinary girl with a boring life, who unsuspectingly drinks a formula that gives her powers over the four elements. She is pulled into a world of paranormal wonders she never knew existed right under her nose. Rome, an agent of a paranormal organization, first hunts her to neutralize her but finds himself attracted to her and driven to protect her. Belle is being hunted by many people who want to use her new found powers for their own gains.

The best best things about this book--very cute, very funny, without being too sugery sweet. Belle is clumsy and emotional in the beginning, and seems like kind of a loser but with a good heart. She's so easy to relate to and that makes it all the more fun when she starts to grow both in the use of her powers and as a person. Rome was a very sexy counterpart, very likeable. There's also some interesting secondary characters introduced, such as Tanner the empath who becomes Belle's sidekick. Basically it's all the fun of a comic book but with a romance novel twist.

The negative part--it's a bit predictable. It doesn't have much in the way of truly original ideas.There's a great deal of exposition and world building, much of which is Rome explaining things to Belle. And while the humor is successful in it's own right, it sometimes detracts from the dramatic parts. It's a book that's hard to take seriously because it doesn't take itself seriously. 3 stars.

So there you have it. I wish that I had a five star example of superhero romance readily available, but I just haven't found one yet.

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