In Dispensing Justice, the first book of the Nova Genesis World series, Michael Gurick embraced his superhero legacy when the Demolition Squad killed his father. Not for one second did young Michael waiver in his commitment to honor his father’s memory. The Dispenser was dead. Long live the Dispenser.
Now in the series’ second novel, the point of view shifts to Michael’s best friend, Penny Riggs-Armstrong. Unlike Michael, Penny isn’t sold on a career as a superhero. She’s just a 14-year-old kid. There are plenty of things a teenage girl should be doing other than wearing a flashy supersuit and smashing evildoers.
Penny’s mother thinks otherwise, however. She’s putting a lot of pressure on her daughter to join the family business. Like her mother, Penny is a “brick,” which means that she’s stronger and tougher than regular people. But like all teenagers, she’s struggling to establish her own identity apart from her parents. “None of us has a choice about having powers,” she says. “Only how we use them.”
Despite Penny’s ongoing identity crisis, her decision to become a superhero is never really in doubt. Not really. We know that she will eventually embrace her Nova Genesis destiny. The book’s title, after all, kind of gives it away. When Penny finally agrees to don her Red Rook costume, she merely shrugs in resignation. “It feels strange wearing my supersuit,” she admits. “But it also feels somewhat inevitable.”
More than anything else, the influence of her friends helps Penny reconcile her doubts about following in her mother’s footsteps. Peer pressure, as we all know, is an extremely powerful thing. Once everything gets sorted out, the Red Rook joins her pals Lensark, Midnight Grey, and the Dispenser. Together as Aegis Team: TNG they unite to save their city from being demolished by five billion tons of ice. “Time to mask up.”
We enjoyed the first Nova Genesis World novel because it harkened back to classic mid-century “juvenile” science fiction from the likes of Robert Heinlein and E.E. Smith and gave it a fresh superhero twist. This second outing retains some of that vintage charm but amps up the SFnal details. In fact, we’re tempted to say the author’s love of hardware, gadgets, and fake science ultimately derails poor Penny’s story. We could be wrong, but we feel that a little less clutter would have brought more clarity to her superhero dilemma. For us, the rook is our favorite piece on the chessboard. We were hoping to like The Red Rook just as much.
[The Red Rook / By Fritz Freiheit / First Printing: August 2013 / ISBN: 9780984795567]