March 29, 2024

Review: Dreadnought

Dreadnought Dreadnought by April Daniels
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dreadnought is a combination superhero/coming of age/trans coming out story, and the final element is the best. Our protagonist Danny Tozer's struggles against the people who want to oppress her and deny the reality of who she is are poignant and well-drawn.

That story would have been interesting in and of itself, but it's set against the backdrop of an alternate history/world where superheroes and metahumans are a real thing (and this book excels in depicting the sheer rubble-creating, city-destroying chaos that trails in their wake; honestly, I got to thinking whether it might be better for the world to start nuking any superheroes, bad or good, they come across). Danny accidentally inherits the mantle of Dreadnought, the World's Greatest Superhero, one fine morning as she buys a bottle of polish to paint her toenails, the one expression of her true self she feels safe to display. Her taking the "mantle" of Dreadnought's power alters her body into the girl she has always known she was (although from the description, the mantle actually makes her intersex; she's told she doesn't have a uterus and won't be able to bear children). This completely upends her world, as she is drawn into superhero politics and machinations, and her family life as well, as her nasty father and useless mother try to force her into the mold and body of the son they want.

This is a pretty fast-paced story, taking place over the span of a few weeks as Danny struggles to master her powers, integrate herself with the local Legion of superheroes protecting her city, and reconcile herself to her new reality. Her best (male) friend makes a complete ass of himself over her transformation, wanting to date her now, and their friendship splinters; she discovers another young superhero, Calamity/Sarah, with whom she goes out "caping" at night (apparently superheroes can get by on little or no sleep) to hunt down criminals and stop robberies and such; and oh by the way, she also has to find and stop Utopia, the cyborg who killed the previous iteration of Dreadnought. All the while trying to figure out her powers and attempt to salvage her deteriorating relationship with her parents (who eventually kick her out, saying they "want their son back").

Needless to say, scientifically this entire concept is absurd (during the final battle, for example, Danny flies around downtown at speeds of "two thousand miles an hour"). But the author doesn't hold back, going all-in on their world with no apologies. This makes the reader get invested in Danny and all the characters. At the end, Danny is on the road to accepting herself, both as a girl and a superhero, and the reader is happy for her.

The only knock I have on this book is that sometimes the pacing is too fast and frenetic--I would have preferred a periodic slowing down and a bit of room to breathe. Nevertheless, this is very good, and I'm glad I took a chance on this unknown-to-me author.

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