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This, Mur Lafferty's first published novel, takes the tropes of comic book-style superheroes and villains, and brilliantly upends them to explore what lies underneath. The world of Playing for Keeps not only contains the previously mentioned costumed characters, but also a group of relatively normal folk - "third wavers" - who have special abilities too esoteric and underpowered to be useful for daring or mischief... or so it seems. What follows is a story that explores the complexities behind what it truly means to be a "hero," even when society has deemed that you are not.
Playing for Keeps is at turns epic and human, with everyday, flawed characters that are forced to contend with extraordinary challenges in which there is often no "right answer." Mur's prose is deft and evocative, making this a compelling, engrossing read to the very end.
FINAL WORD: A HIGH five of five stars, and a must read not only for fans of genre fiction, but anyone who enjoys an excellent tale. Highest recommendation.
I have to admit - I purchased this book based on the impressive array of highly eloquent five-star reviews. I'm a longtime fan of the superhero novel genre and I'm usually very impressed by the likes of, just as examples, Austin Grossman, who wrote 'Soon I Will Be Invincible', that 'Devil's Cape' book whose author I forget and James Maxey's 'Nobody Gets the Girl'. I'm always looking for new ones and somewhat naively figured that if so many people liked this one I couldn't go wrong.
Unfortunately this book isn't very good. It's so not-good that I was actually moved to write a review about it, so that perhaps other people out there wouldn't waste their money the same way I did mine. The story's premise is serviceable enough: two groups of super-powered individuals, those with powers natural or otherwise deemed suitable for government exploitation become costumed heroes, while those with more modest abilities (such as spraying excrement from one's hands, which in her own way Lafferty does her best to handle with a certain amount of sensitivity) merely attempt to live their lives. The sort-of title character, Keepsie, who has the power to never lose anything, runs a bar for the latter group where they can relate to each other about how it sucks to have superpowers without getting respect or having the great responsibility that the government heroes do. One day, however, due to her powers, Keepsie is entrusted by a super-villain with an object that the superheroes seem at great pains to recover, and determines to get to the bottom of the story herself. These are the broad strokes, anyway.
The problem is that this novel is not fun to read. For one thing, Lafferty has no ear for dialogue.Read more ›
The destruction of the myth that superhero stories aren't suited for prose fiction continues with Mur Lafferty's Playing For Keeps. The book, which centers on people who have powers, but not powers that would exactly guarantee them membership in the JLA or the Avengers, combines the humor and humanity of Mystery Men with the superhero deconstruction of Watchmen.
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"Playing for Keeps" celebrates the superhero genre with its mighty chisel-chinned heroes and diabolical villains -- and then tosses the most-familiar elements of that setup on its head. The result is a delightful salute (and send up) to comic books; a world in which the good guys aren't as good as their propaganda posters proclaim ... and the villains' mission garners more sympathy than you might expect.
The book's Seventh City setting brims with super-folk, many of whom are like Keepsie, the story's lead protagonist. Sporting a power deemed too "passive" to be useful for official crimefighting by the local hero academy, Keepsie is mostly content to run her pub and scowl at the sycophantic TV reports about the city's caped crusaders. But when Seventh City's villains target her as the linchpin in a new conspiracy, Keepsie finds herself in an ethical quandary: she must either help the heroes who rejected her, or cave to the villains' whims...
...or does she? Keepsie and her pals create a third option, which forces them to stick together, stand against heroes and villains, and scrap for their lives.
It's a fun, funny and exciting romp, and author Lafferty executes the story brilliantly, crafting a city and denizens so well-defined, you'd think they were pulled from a top-selling four-color comic. Lafferty also deftly explores the ethics of superheroing, and the interpersonal conflicts that arise when blessed with such powers.
Perhaps best of all, "Playing for Keeps" reminds us that we can all be heroes -- a relevant and hopeful message for not just fans of the genre, but any reader. Highly recommended.
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What makes someone a hero? What are a hero's responsibilities? Heroes are good, right? Who decides who gets to be a hero and who has to stand on the sidelines? Why do they always have super cool powers? Or do they? What do you do when you find yourself on the wrong side of the law? You'll ask yourself these questions and more.
I used the podcast version of Playing for Keeps with my Advance English Language Conversation class at a women's university in Seoul, Korea. My students loved the story and found themselves questioning their assumptions about what makes a hero.
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2013 WINNER John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
2012 John W. Campbell Award Nominee for Best New Writer
2008 Winner of the Parsec Awards for Best Novella and Best Novel
"...the doyenne of scifi podcasting." ~Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing.net
Mur Lafferty is a podcaster and writer from Durham, NC. She made her name with podcasting (I Should Be Writing, The Angry Robot Podcast, and Escape Pod, the premier SF podcast magazine) and has written for magazines, roleplaying games, and audio and video podcasts.
She's the author of the popular Shambling Guides series, with books 1 (Shambling Guide to New York City) and 2 (Ghost Train to New Orleans) out now.