Review & Giveaway: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Monday, January 23, 2017
Title: Dreadnought
Author: April Daniels
Genre: science fiction
Series: Nemesis #1
Pages: 276
Published: expected January 24 2017
Source: received an ARC from publishers for review
Rating: 4.5/5

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.

Most of the time, in movies or in books, the big superhero stories tend to feature and promote the same type of story over and over: the experiences of adult cishet straight male heroes. Dreadnought by April Daniels shatters that cultural expectation from its first page. This creative, thoughtful, and occasionally heavy supernaturally-inclined young adult novel is centered on a young transgender teenager named Danny (her chosen name both pre- and post-transition) Tozer; a 15-year old girl who unexpectedly inherits the mantle of the most powerful metahuman known to her world. Evenly balancing the high-stakes action with the just-as-pivotal mundane moments that make up a life, Dreadnought is an original, layered, and diverse take on a superhero plot.

Set in an alternate world where metahumans and special abilities exist, Danny's home and school life is sadly familiar to our real-world in a lot of recognizable ways. Her parents are less than enthusiastic about some of the hard facts of Danny's existence: namely the fact that she's a girl, and a lesbian, and that they never even had a son. Danny's relationships with both her parents are hard to read; her father's treatment both before and after the mantle is obviously abusive in a number of ways, and though her mother's reactions aren't as visibly harmful, they are just as toxic. They misgender her intentionally and repeatedly; they use slurs and bully their child. It's not always easy to read, even before the TERF "hero" also mistreats the MC.

The personal struggles -- both internal and external, mundane and magical -- that Danny is experiencing are handled with care, sensitivity and honesty. It can be an incredible amount of fun to read about Danny's escapades out caping with her friend Calamity, but Dreadnought doesn't sugarcoat the other aspects of her transitioning so publicly and so abruptly. In addition to the undeniable entertainment value and pure joy (the airplane!) that the novel offers, April Daniels also shows a lot of the harsh truths that a lot of transgender teens will face in their lives.

Danny Tozer is a great character, hands down. Even working within the short amount of pages in this first novel of the Nemesis series (less than three hundred!) she is one of the most developed, complex protagonists I've read in a long while. She's vibrant and bursts from the page; a determined, stubborn, a little bit foolhardy girl, but one who is also genuinely goodhearted. The voice is strong, even as Danny is openly conflicted about what having inherited the mantle of being Dreadnought means to her personally. Her POV is sadly rare to find in any kind of traditionally published story, much less one where they are the hero tasked to save the world from an all-consuming evil/supervillain. The fact that this is an Own Voices author just proves how important it is to have authors that understand diverse stories be the ones to tell them. April Daniels understands her main character in ways others purely can't and her main character, and the story, is better for that.

Not only is Deadnought an original spin on the ever-popular superhero tales in many ways, it's just plain engaging to read start to finish. The action is taut and unpredictable -- and there's definitely a learning curve for our young heroine in all aspects of her new role. The story moves quickly after an initial infodump but doesn't sacrifice developing the plot or characterization for that fact. The many different kinds of tech mentioned are interesting if a tad unclear (I don't quite get the hypertech?) but doesn't overwhelm. It's an inventive alternate world and one that is open for further exploration in the forthcoming sequel(s). The characters are strong and unique individuals, from the main characters to the secondary. The villain especially has potential for further development and a larger role to play in the overall series plot.

The only issues come very late in the narrative: the ending is a bit abrupt and under-developed. There is the possibility of further resolution to come, but the way Dreadnought ends seemed a bit... easy. There is some clever authorial sleight of hand but it's not quite enough to compensate. Though the finale lacks the satisfaction of a story completed, this debut novel is a fantastic read. Through the high moments and the low, Danny's story is unputdownable but it's also obviously just beginning.

Since I was sent a review copy of this book, I'd like to giveaway a finished copy as well. Since I was given a platform (as Dani said) I'd like to use it to both review and promote this book.

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