Book Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Nemesis
Publisher: Diversion Books (January 24, 2017)
Length: 276 pages
This year, if you’re involved in one or more of the many diversity reading challenges out there or simply encouraging yourself to check out more diverse reads, I hope you’ll consider Dreadnought. Books like this one have a relevant place in our world today for their role in celebrating LGBT voices and spreading awareness, and I think what excited me most was the depth of our protagonist and the way her story was told.
Fifteen Danny Tozer has always known in her mind and in her heart that she is a girl, even if her body says otherwise. The crushing anxiety of trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender has been building lately, which is why at the start of this book, she finds herself hiding behind the mall secretly painting her toenails—holding onto this one thing she can control. That’s when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the world’s greatest superhero known as Dreadnought literally falls out of the sky and lands right in front of her. Gravely injured by a supervillain named Utopia, Dreadnought knows his time is near, so with his dying breath he passes his powers on to Danny.
In that moment, Danny is changed. Becoming the new Dreadnought has not only granted the amazing superpowers that come with the role, but it has also transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be, the girl she has always been inside. For Danny, this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to her, though that happiness is quickly dampened when faced with the hostile reactions of her overbearing father who refuses to accept her new identity. At school, her best friend David is also suddenly treating her differently, saying and doing these awful things. Furthermore, Danny has realized that the mantle of Dreadnought comes with certain responsibilities—like saving the world. Sure enough, it’s not long before the superhero team Legion comes knocking at her door trying to recruit her, and the offer has Danny feeling torn. She knows she wants to help people, but she’s just not sure she wants to be the kind of hero the Legion wants her to be.
At its heart, Dreadnought is a superhero novel—it’s fun, fast-paced, and action-packed. But as you can see, there’s also a lot more to the story, and the conflicts here are complex and multi-faceted. I liked how this book incorporated the superhero elements while at the same time using Danny’s super-powered transformation and the accompanying acquisition of Dreadnought’s abilities as an allegory for a person coming out as transgender. April Daniels has done a fantastic job exploring Danny’s story, especially in detailing her internal struggles, her hopes and joys, fears and doubts. I can’t even pretend to understand how it feels for teens in that situation, but reading about Danny was definitely an emotional journey. Her character is well-written, deeply developed and very real.
Plot-wise, Dreadnought is an entertaining read. Momentum took some time to build, but when Danny meets the Legion, I think that was when the story really hit its stride. I loved Doc Impossible, and the banter between her and Danny during their first major scene together quickly made her one of my favorite side characters. Another thing I loved about this book was the female friendship. While Danny considers Legion’s offer to join up, she meets up with another “greycape” hero named Calamity (and I have a serious weakness for cowgirl-themed heroes) and the two of them take it upon themselves to help those who slip through the cracks of the Legion’s watch. They have a great dynamic together, and the excitement ramps up as the duo decide they have what it takes to take down Utopia themselves.
But for all its strengths, the story also has its weaknesses. There were parts of it that felt a little too clichéd or unconvincing. For example, other than Danny and maybe a couple other characters, no one else was all that fleshed out, and they were treated more like props than real people. Take the Legion—we hear about all their great deeds and how they’re the most powerful superhero team in the world, but of course at the moment of truth they are rendered useless so that our protagonist can conveniently step up to save the day. Portrayal of characters like David, Graywytch, or Danny’s parents are also extreme to the point where they sometimes felt like caricatures of caricatures. While people like that certainly exist, the way they were written in this book felt scripted and done for the sake of pushing the story along. The author also did more telling than showing, with rocky prose in places and pages of info-dumping being a frequent issue early on in the novel. Finally, world-building felt sparse and glossed over, and throughout the book I couldn’t help but experience this disconnect to the wider world beyond.
All told though, I enjoyed Dreadnought a lot. It’s an eye-opening book featuring a wonderfully developed and genuine protagonist. This is the origin story about how she became the eponymous superhero, and it is an unforgettable journey of action and emotion. What a promising start, with much potential for the rest of the Nemesis series!