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Friday, October 03, 2008

The Strand Prophecy Average ... Nothing More

Watch out, world - there's a new superhero in town. He's got an exoskeleton to protect him from bad guys, a missile cycle for zooming around the Earth, a floating command center as big as a city, and enough toys to turn James Bond permanently green with envy. He is Strand - a man, but so much more.

We meet this new superhero in J.B.B. Winner's book, The Strand Prophecy, the first in a new sci fi series. Since two of the authors (J.B.B. stands for Jeff, Brittany and Brianna - a father and his 13-year-old twin daughters) are teenagers, the book has been marketed as young adult. I don't get that, really, since there's only one teenaged character, and she spends little time "on stage." AnyWAY, here's the rest of the story ...

Like most superheroes-to-be, Strand begins life as an ordinary man. Steve Cutter. An anthropologist/technologist, Steve becomes so engrossed in his work that he cuts himself off from family and friends. He's so obsessed with his own technology that he tries some of his technology on himself. Soon, he begins changing. He is a man, but more (trust me - if you read this book, you will come to detest this phrase). Steve's new powers complicate things, especially when he gets custody of his 16-year-old niece after the deaths of her parents. To keep Anna safe, he must hide his secret identity from her.

When Steve receives news of strange creatures sighted in Brazil, he knows he needs to investigate. He's been convinced for some time that Earth is entering an "accelerated evolutionary cycle" - the blood-thirsty, barely human species he finds in South America is proof that normal humans are in very real danger. Strand knows he needs to warn people, but the U.S. government buries the story, vehemently denying that anything dangerous is happening. Strand knows the future of humanity is in his hands. Ignoring the president's orders to stand down, he sends a warning to the world - stay out of direct sunlight/moonlight, watch for animals acting strangely, and wait for messages from Strand.

Meanwhile, back at the lab ... Veternarian Dr. E studies the adaptations in humans and animals, trying to figure out what is happening. All she knows is that things are changing - she, herself, is changing. All around her, things are evolving. Some of the evolution is good, some not so good. She knows she's an integral part of creating a new brand of superhero to combat the new, violent species that are being created every day. She also knows she must help Steve (she doesn't know about Strand) protect the innocent, including the unwary Anna, who seems to be walking right into the realm of crazed T-Rex crocodiles. Can she and Strand save Anna? More importantly, can they save the world?

As you can see, The Strand Prophecy follows a very traditional sci fi plot - man finds out he has powers, man must hide his identity to protect those he loves, man/superhero must save the world. It's not very original (although I don't know that I've ever met a superhero who rides missiles). Plot, however, is not this book's biggest flaw - that would be the flat characters, bland writing, and stiff, unnatural dialogue. Point of view is all over the place, dipping into the minds of every character, including a Howler monkey. A plethora of dry scientific facts also made my eyes glaze over. The other thing that really bugged me was the hero's infallibility - with his machines, he could do anything. Even superheroes need some weaknesses to make them sympathetic and interesting.

On the bright side, the story moves pretty quickly. It's a fast read, and YA readers will probably enjoy the ride. For me, I wanted more dynamic writing, characters with personality (if the cast didn't use each other's name in every sentence, I would not have been able to tell their voices apart), and some realistic dialogue. Without these things, I couldn't lose myself in this novel. I wanted to like it, but honestly, I wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't committed to reviewing it. Sorry J.B.B. Winner, The Strand Prophecy is just average ... nothing more.

(As occasionally happens, reviewers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble disagree with my assessment of this book. Check out their comments for a different perspective.)

Grade: C

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