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Devil's Cape (Discoveries) Paperback
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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As the above excerpt hopefully indicates, the world of Devil's Cape is violent and gritty, stylized but also with a very real feel. Another example, in the world of Devil's Cape, if the mob boss wants a hero with physical resistance dead, he has a sniper shoot him with an extremely high caliber bullet -- and a dozen guys with sledge hammers move in to finish the job. (These little bits are not spoilers, don't worry.)
The history of the mob conflict is interwoven with origin stories for three new heroes as well as a troop of villains. Its all very, very well done.
The difficulty, if there is one, is that the book starts 22 years in the past, and takes a long time to work up to the present and introduce the new villains and heroes. The pay-off - the three heroes coming together - comes very deep in the book, around 90% of the way. While its totally worth the well written journey, all the set-up time combined with the ending of the book, which cries out for a sequel that doesn't exist, may leave some a little frustrated. The author does have a blog and is apparently still an active writer, so one assumes there is hope, but Devil's Cape was released in 2010. I'll say a little more about the ending in a comment to avoid spoilers.
Bottom Line: This is a five star superhero fantasy, marred only by the combination of a lot of set-up time and an ending that cries out for a sequel that may or may not ever come. Expect it to be one of your favorite superhero novels -- and to be at least mildly annoyed that there isn't a sequel.
P.S. There are a few Devil's Cape short stories the author has written. I'll check these out, but unfortunately, they don't look like sequels.
Devil's Cape is an origin story done right, not just once but three times. It follows three people with very different motivations and origins, and their journey towards taking up the responsibilities of their predecessors. What I loved about this was that there was no simple 'do the right' thing choice. Each character is acutely aware - having it reinforced over and over again - that in Devil's Cape a superhero career historically doesn't end so much in glory as brutal death. And unlike Marvel or DC, these heroes stay dead.
With such horrific repercussions, the author still manages to do a solid job of justifying why each character makes the choice they do. Their motivations are complex and convincing, and their back-stories show us what's driving them. I particularly enjoyed the methodical, analytical point of view of Kate Brauer whose character carries aspects of Iron Man and Batman while not being a total cipher of either. Also enjoyable was Jason Kale who was clearly inspired by Wonder Woman and Superman but has darker secrets than either. The kindly, determined Cain Duccett rounds out the team nicely, with his reluctance to be a vigilante weighed against his need for redemption.
The balancing of the characters is one of the novel's strengths, with each character being given equal development and importance to the plot. The back-stories could be confusing occasionally, as the story kept switching point of view and time, but that was a minor quibble for me. The pacing was a little slow to start off with, as the various characters were set up, but around the middle it really hit its stride and just powered through until the final epic showdown.
There's not a whole lot of development for the antagonists. The Circus is a set of colorful one-dimensional villains that could have been pulled from a Saturday morning cartoon except for their gruesomely realistic edge. The real figure of interest is the shadowy Robber Baron who moves behind the scenes, manipulating people and events with effortless skill. His origin is mostly delivered through subtext, and very little is known about him or his motives. It was a little disappointing that he and the protagonists never directly confront each other, but the way this book is structured leads me to believe this was an intentional choice by the author. It feels like the first novel of a series and I was rather disappointed there was never a sequel.
Overall, I'd give this a 9/10 and definitely one of the top superhero novels I've read.
Okay, the street-level description of Devil's Cape did get tedious at times, but nearly always served a purpose greater than simply proving the writer's chops. The quasi-character of Devil's Cape, chewing up and spitting out superhumans like buckets of shelled crawfish was a great twist. A New Orleans on gamma rays if you will.
The characters were unique (though, naturally borrowed from existing comic book heroes) and the writing was solid with a few hiccups. But it kept me turning pages and wanting more.
As far as my late deduction - the ending isn't bad. It's just, well, what you would expect. A sort of Hollywood ending for a book that felt like it was trying to do something deeper from page one. This doesn't ruin the read by any means, but just didn't quite fit what had been bubbling beneath the surface. There's a nice reveal which is well played, but my gripe is with the "big battle" - which I will just let you read and decide for yourself.
Despite that, Devil's Cape is one of my favorite superhero novels thus far and I recommend giving it a read.