Rusty is a young man attending school in Portland and studying architecture. But there’s something a little different about Rusty. He’s not just an ordinary gay redhead, he’s also an Echo.
Years ago, an event occurred that created the first super powered humans. Ripples from that event called “echoes” spread out across the world and occasionally sparked a reaction in certain humans and either granted or awoke lesser powers of their own. These people aren’t as gifted or as strong as the first super heroes — called Originals, as they were the original powers — and their world isn’t as innocent or unprepared for them as it was forty years ago. Now the DTPA — the Department of Transformed Persons Affairs — is in charge of America’s super powered people, studying them, testing them, and protecting them from the rest of society.
Rusty more or less follows the rules: checking in when he should, attending the summer camps, keeping his powers hidden and not drawing overmuch attention to himself. But when Kosma, the Ukrainian architecture student he’s been flirting with online, vanishes without a trace, Rusty has to do something more than just sit and wait.
It’s not just Kosma, either. Gay, lesbian and transgender teens; homeless people; sex-workers;, and indigent people are vanishing all over the world and no one is looking for them. Frustrated and frightened for his friend, Rusty decides to do something about it. He goes looking for one of the Originals, a gay Original called Sentinel, to ask for his help.
In the late 1970s, Sentinel and his partner Radiant were the heart of the Champions, the first super hero team that, after the event, saved lives, averted disasters man-made and natural, and changed the world. But when Radiant was killed by fellow super Mata Hari, Sentinel came out of the closet, revealing his relationship with Radiant … and retired. The resulting scandal caused the Champions to break up and the government to step in. Echoes and Originals were registered, government agencies were created to deal with them, and super hero teams were no longer allowed or encouraged. If they wished to save lives, they could do so through normal means: become a doctor, a police officer, or join the army. No more heroics, no more attention, no more Champions.
Rusty has to find a way to convince Sentinel to come out of retirement to help save the people no one cares about, to rescue the people society has thrown away. But even as he’s pleading his case with the retired Original, Rusty finds himself fighting his own attraction to the man. Sentinel lost the love of his life, Radiant, and is determined to remain faithful to his memory. But even the deepest of wounds eventually start to heal.
First, let me say, I truly enjoyed this book. The depth and complexity of the world building is absolutely amazing. The mythology behind the creation of super powered humans is rich and unique. The research is meticulous and the action scenes are beautifully written. I would not believe this was the author’s debut book, considering how well-written it is.
Rusty is an engaging character, slightly shallow in the way many young men are. He’s rash, impulsive, and warm-hearted. Sentinel — or Mitch, as he prefers to be called, now — is a man still grieving for his lost love and yet, as lost as he is in his own grief, he can’t stop being a good person. Neither man is a stereotype, and neither are defined by their powers.
Speaking of powers, the super hero system the author created is amazing. Rusty has power over metal, but he’s nothing like Magneto. The way he uses his powers are inventive and logical and fun! With little more than the metal in his shoes, he manages to skate along train tracks like a maglev train. Deosil (Jesh-il), his best friend, is also an Echo. An elemental wiccan, her powers over fire, earth, air, and water are creative and — though it seems silly to use this word in a super hero story — realistic.
The team of characters Rusty assembles — the Spanish Llorna with her sonic powers; Optic, the ex-military-turned-action-hero; Deosil; and Sentinel — come across as people. While not, themselves as fully formed as the world they live in, they’re still complex and engaging characters, each with their own motives, flaws and personality.
The combat scenes — of which there are many — are beautifully, almost cinematically written. I could easily visualize the action and no character ever seemed to become too powerful just for effect. Even the other Echoes, Originals, and Empowered were interesting and had more motive than being just a stereotypical villain.
I wish there had been a bit more time devoted to the team building and maybe one or two fewer action scenes, but it’s a small quibble and goes to show you how good the book is. I read this book in one go and when it ended, I quickly went to see if there was a sequel. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet, though this is the first in a series and I hope the author has plans to revisit his world sometime soon.