Black and White by Jackie Kessler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the first book in my 2014 TBR challenge. The TBR challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader, and it's to clear books off your to-read list that have been there longer than a year. I add the "difficulty" that it has to have been taking up space on my shelves longer than that, too.
I actually found a signed copy of Black and White at my local Borders, which should tell you how long I've had it. Jackie Kessler is local to the Capital Region, and must've passed through signing their stock.
I did fret I wouldn't like this book, which is probably why I put off reading it for so long. I've met Jackie Kessler, and she's friends with one of my friends. While I don't consider writing ability a reflection on a person's worth, liking a person more than you like what they can do makes for awkward conversations.
Luckily, I needn't have worried, nor do I have to blame the parts I didn't like on Kessler's co-author. I enjoyed Black and White, and found myself unable to put it down around the 300-page mark. It reads quickly, with short chapters and a back story that matters as much as the present day. I really cared about what happened to Jet and Iridium, and I wanted to know what had driven them apart.
Black and White takes place in a near-future setting, where superhumans are well-known but not necessarily well-liked. The police resent them for showing them up at their jobs, the populace mistrusts them, and the corporation that trains and houses them keeps them on a short leash. One single slip-up with one's powers can get a superhero pronounced "rabid," and sentences them to life in Blackbird Prison. Most go full-on supervillain before they're caught, rebelling against the system that keeps a tight rein.
Jet has shadow powers, but is afraid of what they can do, after seeing her similarly-powered father snap and kill her mother with his power. Iridium has light powers, and her father went the supervillain route before winding up in prison. In a reverse of what one might expect, the shadow-powered one winds up the hero, and the light-powered one the villain. Something happens in their fifth year of training to drive a wedge between them, and, five years later, Jet is determined to bring in Iridium, while Iridium wants to show Jet she chose the wrong side, and get her back for betraying her, in the bargain.
When Jet fails to bring in Iridium, her PR is in trouble, and she embarks on a clandestine mission to fix it. While she does get back in the public's good graces (and almost dies, while she's at it), what she learns has her questioning the things she's always been told about the corporation she works for.
Iridium, meanwhile, works with a vigilante with electric powers to strike at the heart of CorpCo by shutting off the communications that keep the heroes marching to their beat, which will throw the city into chaos. Her plan takes her into Jet's path, where they both uncover something much bigger than their fundamental disagreement. Jet's sense of betrayal runs deep, while Iridium learns that thinking she understands what's going on is what got her where she is.
While it's difficult to capture the spirit of comics in an exclusively written medium, I think Kessler and Kittredge manage it well. The battles feel cinematic without becoming repetitive, and they paint an excellent view of the city of New Chicago and its filthy underbelly, as well as of Jet and Iridium. I expected to be able to tell which character's perspective was written by which writer, but they manage to blend their styles so well that there's no jarring shift from one section to the next.
I greatly enjoyed this collaborative project, and I wish there were more than two books. I'll be reading the second book as soon as I can get my hands on a copy (yes, despite my intimidating to-read pile). That, to me, speaks of a successful book, when the world and characters are so compelling you finish it wanting more.
View all my reviews