Book Review: The Nobody People by Bob Proehl
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 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Del Rey (September 3, 2019)
Length: 496 pages
The Nobody People is one of those books with a great premise that maybe looks better on paper than in execution. It is also very ambitious, resulting in some difficulty engaging on my part, simply because a lot was happening and the at times the plot felt all over the place. The novel begins with an introduction to Avi Hirsch, whom I’d initially assumed to be our main protagonist. A former war correspondent, he is a journalist who has taken to doing more local jobs after losing his leg on his last assignment overseas. But due to his expertise on terrorism and explosives, Avi was asked to investigate disturbing reports of young man who was able to carry out a string a suicide bombing attacks at multiple locations without dying himself—and without, apparently, a bomb.
And so begins Avi’s first exposure to the group of super-powered individuals who call themselves “Resonants.” His investigation has drawn their attention, but there is also another reason why they decided to approach him, and that is because they have identified his young daughter Emmeline—whom Avi had always just assumed was especially precocious and gifted—as one of them. Their leader, a man named Bishop, has established a school which he would like Emmeline to attend, where she would be able to learn to use and control her powers.
Eventually though, with the occurrence of even more high-profile cases involving Resonants in the news, they are forced to reveal themselves, and as expected, the response is not exactly friendly.
First off, that author Bob Proehl was inspired by the X-Men is immediately obvious. In fact, if he hadn’t made so many deliberate references to comic books, I might even have called this book a blatant copy-cat rather than the homage it’s probably meant to be. He’s borrowed a lot of ideas from the X-Men universe, from little details like the Bishop Academy in New York to the overarching themes of marginalization and bigotry against the mutants—oops, my bad, I mean the Resonants. This in itself isn’t a negative, per se, since I love the X-Men and Proehl is by no means the first author to be influenced by the comic or use its tropes for himself. That said, I was a little taken aback by how bold some of these similarities were, and a little disappointed that this book wasn’t a tad more original. At times, the story even had a fanfic vibe to it that I found hard to shake.
But my main issue with The Nobody People, as I’ve alluded to already, is the fact that there is just SO. MUCH. GOING. ON. There is a lot of conflict, but not really a unifying thread to make everything feel cohesive. Like I said, I started the book thinking Avi was the main protagonist, and the first handful of pages made me think we were settling for a detective story. Of course, that belief was quickly dispelled as we were introduced to the Resonants, and ultimately, it was Fahima Deeb, a queer Muslim woman with an uncanny supernatural connection to mechanical objects who ended up taking over the reins. But throw in other POVs like Emmeline, Patrick, Carrie and many more others, over time it became increasingly more difficult to feel emotionally invested in each character equally. There were a lot of names to keep track of, and some inevitably fell through the cracks and felt undeveloped, uninteresting.
The story also dragged and rambled at times, coming across as more episodic like a TV series rather than having a distinct beginning, middle, and end (which, while we’re on the topic, was very abrupt and I can’t say I was a fan of the ending at all). To the book’s credit though, I have to say there were many highlights and memorable moments, plus plenty of intrigue. I just wished that all these ideas, themes, plot points, and character motives could have been better pieced together to form a smoother, more cogent and convincing narrative.
Overall, I would say The Nobody People is worth a read if you’re into superhero type fiction, keeping in mind it won’t be offering up anything too new or groundbreaking. The story also had the feel of an ensemble cast TV series with numerous mini-arcs complete with multiple climaxes (and anti-climaxes) which could be quite awkward and tiresome at times. However, the plot was not without its high points, and occasionally an action scene or a particular subplot would really shine through and grab my attention. The way the book ends makes me think this will be a series, one that I feel has some promise. Should a sequel be written, I may be open to continuing with the story.