Spectra, $16.00, ISBN 978-0-553-38632-5
Shades of Gray, published as Shades of Night in the UK, is a genuine sequel to Black and White. By genuine, I mean that we have the same main characters as well as some major secondary characters showing up again in a plot that takes off from where we last left off in the previous book. I won’t recommend trying to read this book without having read the previous book first, but for this review, I’d direct you to read the previous review for the background details first if you are new to the whole saga.
So, Jet and Iridium are back, and this time they have to deal with the fallout of the events in the previous book. After dispatching the villain in the previous book, they also inadvertently shattered the brainwash device implemented by the superhero organization Corp-Co on the extrahumans under its jurisdiction. Some extrahumans, realizing what had been done to them, go on an angry rampage, destroying things and all in order to strike back at what they believe to be an establishment that wrongly used them. Others gleefully become villains and terrorize the whole place. Some, like Jet and her handful of friends, stick together and try to corral the badly-behaving extrahumans and hand them over to the authorities. The problem here is that Jet and her friends are in the minority among the extrahumans and even then, they have their own differences in agendas and such that cause some infighting to happen.
As for Iridium, she still establishes her dominion over Wreck City, but she too is getting annoyed by the extrahumans gone rogue that keep disrupting her affairs in the City. When her father and his rabid extrahuman pals are released from prison by Corp-Co for a promise to clean up the mess in exchange for a pardon, Iridium finds that she doesn’t fully trust her father’s friends and approaches Jet on the sly to see whether she can enlist the help of Jet and her friends. Meanwhile, Jet struggles with Shadow inside her head to keep sane.
And then, Dr Hypnotic breaks loose. This man can easily learn your deepest desires and use his knowledge to augment his mind control skills. His past is also closely entwined with that of the parents of both ladies, and I find that he’s a villain with a rather sympathetic side, heh.
There are also flashbacks in this story to the lives and adventures of Team Alpha in the past, a team of diverse superheroes of which the parents of both Jet and Iridium as well as the villain in the previous book are members. If you have read Black and White, you will know that there is no happy ending for Team Alpha. When I realize what I am reading, I am tempted to skip the whole flashback altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t because this aspect of the story adds not only heartbreaking poignancy and human tragedy to this story of extrahumans, it also gives me great insight into the events that shaped the heroines to be who they are today. It gets to a point where Team Alpha’s story actually overshadows the stories of Jet and Iridium in my opinion.
As for the heroines, well, Jet is a little older and wiser, but she still has some annoying lawful stupid tendencies. Sentiments like “Those horrible mutants were once people, so even if they are killing everyone and chewing off the limbs of extrahumans, they are civilians! We can’t hurt them!” make me roll up my eyes. Iridium is still Iridium – she’s a bit too much a Daddy’s Little Girl for my liking. But I can understand better why they are the way they are in this story, and therefore, I only feel an urge to throttle them occasionally. Jet falls back to what she believes to the “right” thing to do in order to make sense of her life, while Iridium craves the approval of the father that had been absent for the most part of her life.
The pacing is excellent and the narrative is top-notch and cohesive despite the fact that each author wrote her respective portions of the story. In fact, the story has twists and turns that have me at the edge of my seat. This is superhero soap opera laced with action and a little bit of romance at its finest. I normally prefer my superhero stories to be humorous and over-the-top than soaking in angst, but Shades of Gray leaves me feeling at the end of the day as if I’d just been through an insane roller coaster ride.
The downside to this story is the onslaught of information dump late in the story about the dirty secrets of Corp-Co, which suggests to me that there may not be a third book in this series. Sigh, and the party is just getting started. Still, there is ample satisfying closure by the end of this book to end everything on a high note.