Fascinating world, interesting story, mildly fresh spin on two well-trodden niches. But the writing is sub-par and the spin isn’t that fresh.
Emergence is the first in a series of three novellas that make up The Darby Shaw Chronicles by my fellow independent author, Liberty Speidel. The trilogy’s tagline is “A superhuman detective novella” and, based on what I’ve seen so far, it delivers on that promise. It’s a mash-up between a next-step-in-human-evolution approach to mutants with powers and a police procedural. Well, this first installment is really more of a juxtaposition than a mash-up.
It starts off all police thriller, with an end of shift call to a domestic violence incident that quickly becomes a murder scene. Then it morphs into a political drama about the rights of mutants with special powers. These superhumans, as they’re called in this world, have been around for some time, but our protagonist, Darby Shaw, has a new ability that some government agencies argue puts her in a different category. Then we jump into a detective story with a bit of mutant powers dashed in for the climax. All of that in seven chapters.
All in all, it’s not a bad book. It’s a quick read at just about 50 pages with an interesting story, a fascinating world, and at least a couple of deep characters. However, the writing feels a bit awkward in places, particularly the dialogue. And the whole middle chunk will very familiar to fans of other franchises that have already explored the idea of the government going after mutants (Heroes, The Tomorrow People, and X-Men have all been there in multiple media). With all of that combined, I had a hard time getting into the story, despite its bright points.
Among those bright points is a very unique world. Unlike TV shows like Heroes and The Tomorrow People, The Darby Shaw Chronicles picks up decades after superhumans have become commonplace. There is a Superhuman Bill of Rights in place to protect them and the chaos documented by those TV show I mentioned above is a distant memory for most citizens. Some people in Speidel’s universe have accepted superhumans and get along with them, while others remain fiercely prejudiced against them. A scene with a police chief referring to Darby’s powers as “witchcraft” captures that attitude well. Another highlight is Darby’s partner, Mark Herman. While many of the characters, especially the government officials from the middle act, feel very flat and boring, Mark is quite well-rounded. He has a believable mix of good and bad traits that makes his interactions with Darby very entertaining.
Overall, I’m giving Emergence a C+. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really stand out either. I will say that I’m excited for what’s coming next in this trilogy. Liberty has already heard the substance of this review on my podcast and she agrees that Emergence could have been better. She also says that the following installments are better.
To Read or Not To Read
Read. It’s not perfect, but it’s only 50 pages long and, best of all, it’s free. If you like detective stories, mutants, or both, you’ve got nothing to lose by picking this up.