Title: The Masked Songbird
Author: Emmie Mears
Disclaimer: Let it be known that I purchased this book of my own free will and enjoyed it so much that I’m posting a recommendation/review.
Here’s the Goodreads blurb:
Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.
I adored this book.
The voice. This voice is everything I want from first person. Gwen is fun to hang around with, and you never quite know what she’ll do next–which is why it’s totally believable that she’d suck down an open beverage when she finds herself in desperate need of one (no spoilers here!).
The story is rigorously true to its own internal logic, and to Gwen’s character. I know her well, so I believe in her choices. She may be hapless from the beginning, as the blurb tells us, but it’s clear she’s tough even before she can leap onto rooftops. She’s good at her job, yet she’s stuck with an evil boss. She’s bad at budgeting, but she doesn’t “solve” the problem by throwing expensive meals/shoes/etc. on credit cards (or hell, even affordable ones–the woman is barely surviving). She has flaws, interesting flaws that directly effect the direction of the novel. She’s also competent enough before she gets her super strength that I believe in her ass-kicking abilities when she does find she has powers–and in the loyalty and kindness that drive her to use them. It’s beautifully done.
The supporting characters are also intriguing. Gwen’s evil boss makes all other evil bosses look like kittens. Her neighbor is a-dor-a-ble. Her flatmate is charming. And her boyfriend…yeah, I think I dated him once. Even those who appear only briefly are memorable and nuanced, which I love–layers and secrets keep me guessing all the way through.
This book strikes a beautiful balance between a fun origin story and a serious contemplation of the price involved in becoming a hero. That choice fascinates me, as do the consequences. I think about it more than I should, probably. I love superheroes. I wrote a novel about superheroes. It’s nothing like this book, but my point is that I was proudly biased when I started reading The Masked Songbird, and I wasn’t disappointed. I was thrilled to see a female superhero who faces these choices and the sacrifices that come with them, who rises to the occasion just like Cap and Spider Man–but (I’m itching to tell you more, but I won’t) brings her own unique spin to the story, too.
What surprised me the most about this novel was its depth of heart. It’s clear from page one that it’s going to be a fun read, but woe betide you if you go in expecting Emmie Mears to pull any punches. She raises the stakes throughout the novel, and she delivers. There’s a line in the climax that hit me so hard I had to put my e-reader down for a few minutes to catch my breath. It’s a moment that could be cheesy, but Ms. Mears pulls it off without sugary sentiment.
Is it too soon to ask for a Gwen Maule TV series? In the vein of Arrow? I’d love that. More importantly though, there’s a sequel on the way–which means lots more quality time with Gwen!
*Yup, I’m still mad at Amazon, but this book doesn’t seem to be available in print (yet! I hope!) so I’m linking to them. Go buy it somewhere. Anywhere.