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Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Review by Drew Bittner
Angry Robot Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857661968
Date: 28 August 2012 List Price $12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

The Seven Wonders protect and defend the California city of San Ventura. Well, sort of--the last supervillain, the Cowl, continues to defy their best efforts and still hatches evil schemes with his partner, Blackbird.

But when a young guy starts to develop powers of his own, the status quo is suddenly overturned and some terrible secrets are dragged into the light. Amid a threat from deep space, a technological wonder gone mad, and a surprising role reversal, things in San Ventura have gotten very, very interesting.

In Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher, the titular heroes represent a cross-section of modern American archetypes, from the Superman-like Aurora's Light to the telepathic Bluebell to the robot SMART. They appear from time to time, from their gigantic crystal palace, to help out or clean up minor crime but their archenem--the Cow--remains loose and defiant. He's a classic supervillain, with powers that put him a notch above even the most powerful hero, and his schemes are grandiose indeed.

Problem is, the Cowl is steadily losing his powers. He hopes he can change that if he gets hold of a secret that the Wonders themselves have forgotten (though they hid vital information among a handful of ex-superheroes). Things are going well until a new hero, the Justiciar, attacks and brutally beats the Cowl before a more definitive encounter ends with the supervillain in the custody of the Seven Wonders.

Many times, that might be the end of the story. But the Justiciar proves to be reckless and irresponsible with his newfound powers, carelessly causing multiple deaths before deciding he's entitled to recompense for his heroics. His girlfriend Jeannie tries to rein him in, but Tony Prosdocimi (aka Justiciar) is headstrong and contemptuous of the Seven Wonders' seeming inability to take down the Cowl.

As events spin further out of control, Justiciar winds up bitter enemies of the Wonders, the girlfriend turns out to have plans of her own, and the superheroine known as Dragon Star reveals something deeply troubling about her origin...and what that will mean to Earth in a handful of days. Unless these divided and antagonistic superhumans can work together on a solution, the world itself might be doomed.

Adam Christopher is part of a growing movement in science fiction: superheroes. Although long predated by Wild Cards, for instance, and novelizations of Marvel and DC superhero adventures, Christopher and a handful of others are creating new worlds, new heroes, and new takes on these modern myths. His book Empire State was a loving take on the pulp era of storytelling; now Seven Wonders does likewise for contemporary superheroics.

The story itself is a colossal mashup of tropes that a comic book reader will find familiar. There is an external threat of gigantic proportions, betrayals and double crosses, vendettas, super science, duplicity, and a huge gulf between public perception and reality. Just as the Seven Wonders' home is largely an empty shell, so too is the truth behind how "public spirited" this team really is--particularly once readers learn how some of them have abused their position of trust and respect.

Although I'd describe this as superheroes for adults, this is not "adult" as in cramming in adult content gratuitously, by any means. It's just a look at superheroes that is not exactly approved by the Comics Code. People are not unharmed by a punch delivered with superstrength and buildings are not miraculously unscathed by a super-brawl; Christopher does a nice job portraying what some of these situations would really be like, especially through the eyes of Joe and Samantha, police detectives who specialize in super-crime.

The secrets behind the Seven Wonders are likewise more complex (and frightening) than in a typical comic book as well. The heroes are ethically compromised many times over, and the villains only slightly more so; the public, ultimately, is not suspicious enough of those who claim to be protecting them. Hm, there might be a valuable lesson in there somewhere.

Christopher's book is a love letter to superhero fiction, as well as being a skillful, enjoyable example of it. Here's hoping for more superhero adventures from this author.

Recommended.

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