Book Review | Dreadnought by April Daniels

I’m on a bit of a heroine kick at the moment – FYI – I just made myself triple check the spelling of that to make sure it didn’t come across as something else entirely. Between what I have read and a number of books I plan on reading next there are quite a few female protagonists in my future.

This book – Dreadnought by April Daniels – came through my WordPress feed thanks to Reading Sanctuary, and after reading their review and checking out a sample I was hooked. I grabbed a copy of the full novel that same night. Narrated by our heroine Danny in a close first person perspective, you can’t help but get sucked into her world.

Quick Note About This Review

This is the first time I took notes as I read to help me when it came time write the review. Usually I just wing it and try to remember the salient points, but this is an effort to make the reviews I post better.

First up, the blurb:

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s 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 Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Ms Daniels has done an excellent job of world building. Lots of history is laid in early with the passing of the mantle of Dreadnought to Danny. Superheros have been around for long enough for people to both love them (for saving them from super villains) and loathe them (for causing the inevitable collateral damage when they have their super fights).

When she suddenly inherits the powers of Dreadnought, our heroine, Danny, is scared people will find out at first. Not just that she’s transgender (the book opens with Danny, still biologically male, secretly buying nail polish and hiding behind dumpsters to put it on), but once she becomes Dreadnought she’s scared about her friends and family finding out.

I’m not going to pretend that I understand the emotional turmoils transgender kids go through, but I can’t help but think they’d give anything to transform as easily as Danny does in this novel. Her new body and superpowers are gifted to her by the passing of the current Dreadnought. Similar to the Green Lantern movie if you’ve seen that, where it gets passed on to Ryan Reynolds at the death of the previous Lantern.

In establishing some of the history, Ms Daniels explains the origins of Dreadnought with…

“…the British had built a warship that revolutionized naval warfare. HMS Dreadnought was faster, stronger, and tougher than anything else afloat. Overnight, it made every other battleship in the world obsolete. That’s what the first man to wear the mantle did to metahumans.”

…thus the name was taken by the first “Dreadnought” who was unrivalled by the other superheros (and villains) of the time.

The irony in all of this of course is that the mantle of Dreadnought gets passed onto someone the polar opposite of this. Someone so emotionally fragile from wanting to be something else, and from being emotionally abused by her father and from being bullied at school.

Even when physically toughened against any punishment evildoers can dish out, the emotional scars still run deep. So much so that Danny can’t find it in herself to stand up to her father even after becoming superhuman.

It doesn’t help that her father, and even a couple of the super-friends from the Legion Pacifica (basically the local chapter of superhero union) are ignorant douchebags.  The real, raw emotions Danny feels when her dad is yelling at her, belittling her, is powerful stuff. Ms Daniels does a great job in these moments , making you feel Danny’s torment and pain through the words on the page.

Of course it’s not all bad news. There’s the fun of learning to control her new powers, most noticeably the ability to fly. Having only tried it out in her bedroom, she suddenly needs to work it out when representatives of the Legion Pacifica come knocking at her window.

This made me chuckle 🙂

Plus of course getting to experience the world as a female for the first time, which is something she’s wanted for a long time. There’s the bonding with her mother as they shop together for the first time for underwear and clothes to fit her new shape, but even her elation at this is tempered by needing to hide it from her father.

Doc Impossible (friendly mad scientist) of the Legion Pacifica befriends her and tries to let her know what the superhero life of a “whitecape” (the good guys) is really like. It’s not just all glamorous  and sexy hero stuff, but it’s also hard on you and your loved ones. Like the day to day stuff “baselines” (non supers) take for granted like their privacy or something as simple as renting an apartment.

Early on she befriends a morally ambiguous vigilante (a “greycape“) called Calamity who helps Danny find her footing in the life of a superhero and helps her with the decision she’s struggling with: join the Legion Pacifica as a whitecape and become the next Dreadnought or live anonymously as a greycape by pretending to be less than she is.

I could bang on about this novel all day, but I don’t want to give too much away. I was very happy to see that book 2 – Sovereign – is slated for a 2017 release. I’ll be getting that when it comes out.

TL;DR Version

Loved this, and can’t wait to read more in this universe. Read the sample chapters from Amazon.