What happens when the superhero the world needs … needs a hero of his own?
Zeus, Olympus City champion and lightning wielding hero, is broken. No, more than broken, he’s shattered. Unable to stop the villain Thanos from killing numerous innocent civilians, including his mother and his friend and partner Rick, Danny — the person behind the mantle of Zeus — snapped. Unable to save those he loved while Thanos laughed, he used his lightning powers to shatter Thanos’ shields and kept going, first with lightning and then his fists, until Thanos stopped laughing and started screaming, and didn’t stop until Thanos was nothing more than the scorched, smoking ruin of what had once been a man.
Danny’s friends, Andre and Lynn, know the truth. They helped him dispose of the body. As far a the city knows their beloved hero saved the day and Thanos is gone. For Danny, that memory will never go away. He may have killed the monster who killed his mother, but if he had been better, stronger, faster, somehow more she would still be alive. The pain and the grief are tearing him up inside. Battling grief, PTSD, depression, and a hysterical need to push everyone away from him before they find out the truth — that he’s soiled and unworthy of their love — he’s making mistakes. Bad ones. He needs to hurt someone before he hurts himself, and decides to turn his wrath to his arch nemesis, Prometheus.
Prometheus, also known as Malcom Cho, is a minor mob boss during the day and a super villain at night. With his powerful ice skills Zeus had thought they could, together, stop Thanos. Only Prometheus didn’t show up, leaving dozens to die and Zeus to take the burden. Who better to take out his anger on than the one person — other than himself — responsible for all of the hurt and suffering and evil? Danny’s not going to kill, ever again, so he comes up with a different plan. He’ll seduce Cho, make the older man fall in love with him, then break his heart into so many pieces he’ll never be able to put himself together. Just like Danny can’t put himself back together. The only problem is … Cho — Mal — is nothing like he thought.
Mal has always been up for a challenge. The perfect heist, the most brilliant plan, and the idea of allowing himself to be seduced by the city’s premier hero amuses him. As much as he likes the idea of taking Zeus down a peg or two, it’s the young man beneath the mask — Danny — that ends up worming his way into Mal’s thoughts. Danny’s pain, his insecurity hidden behind bright, brittle smiles intrigues him. As the weeks go on, Danny finds refuge from his pain and his burdens in Mal’s apartment and Mal’s bed. Here is someone who understands the dual world that’s tearing Danny in half. Maybe Danny doesn’t need a hero. Maybe he just need another human.
As the rating indicates, I really enjoyed this book. The idea of a wounded super hero isn’t a new one. Everyone from Batman to Superman has lost someone or failed in some great battle, but Danny is suffering from depression as well as PTSD from losing his mother and — in a sense — losing Zeus. Zeus, the alter identity that was perfect, that allowed him to be perfect. As a cop, Danny had to deal with rules and red tape and sometimes having to let the bad guy get away due to a lack of evidence or a convincing lawyer. Zeus had no such issues. Stop the bad guy, catch him, and hand him over. A good deed, a good job, a good man doing good work. But after Thanos, Zeus — the idea of him, that part of Danny that was Zeus — is changed. And with Zeus being Danny, he can’t truly hide from the reality of killing someone. Of having that blood on his hands. Of knowing he’d do it again.
As super powered as he is, Danny heals fast. Broken hands will take minutes — long, painful minutes — to heal. On the surface there are no scars or bruises; instead they’re inside where they do the most damage. Danny is falling apart, snapping at friends, making rash decisions, avoiding his family, and falling into a spiral of self-hate, insecurity, self-doubt and recrimination. He’s aware it’s a problem and when pushed (or cornered) by his friends and adopted sister, he admits he’s having trouble. He even asks one of his friends, a medical practitioner, for help. When she manages to find some pills that might work with his lightning fast metabolism , he tries them. They’re not magic, they don’t work instantly, but as time goes by his moods seem to be less hopeless and his despair seems just a little less all-consuming.
Mal hasn’t had it easy, either. He looks mostly Korean, but with his mother’s darker skin. His father was an abusive monster who deliberately used his powers to inflict pain on his children, and it’s left Mal with panic attacks and the need to control everything. It helps him when it comes to planning his heists, but it also means that he doesn’t do well with surprises. Danny is, at first, an unexpected visitor to his apartments, but with the promise of bone melting sex, Mal finds it easy enough to go along. What was supposed to be a one-off turns into a habit as, every time Danny finds himself falling into his dark place he ends up coming to Mal’s place, demanding and needy and sometimes just broken and hurt. Mal can’t help but feel a little used but, he’s also used to taking care of people. His younger sister, the members of his group, the families in his territory that he protects from other mob gangs… adding Danny to the list happens slowly, but it does happen.
The two of them are both suffering. Danny’s pain is more on the surface and more recent; Mal’s grief has had time to heal, but the aftermath of the ruin of his childhood are still there. Watching as they come to understand each other and even rely on each other feels satisfying. With Mal, Danny can be both Zeus (or “Sparky” as Mal calls him) and Danny, he can be more himself with someone who has the same duality, the same burdens of protecting those he cares for by distancing himself from them. But it’s not Mal who helps Danny with his healing — with the magic of good sex — instead it’s Danny’s family reaching out to him, his friends being there when he needs them, and Danny being able to open up.
In this book there’s no shame when a young man has too many feelings choking him. His grief is natural and so are his tears. This book reminds us that it’s okay to feel pain, to rage and weep and feel angry at the injustice of the world — real or perceived. It’s also okay to reach out for help from friends, from lovers, or even from pills and professionals. Danny has a wonderful support system and while he’s getting and endorphin high from the sex, it’s that network of friends and family, and Mal as both a friend and lover, who helps him find a balance in the midst of the chaos.
The magic system is also fun, with almost no explanation given behind it. It’s intuitive and creative and just … fun. Each person is born attuned to some element — such as water, fire, lightning or shadow — which dictates their eye color and their power. Someone with a water leaning might be able to breathe in water, or sense water, or raise a tsunami if they’re one of those blessed or cursed enough to be “Awakened” and given the godlike powers of a superhero or villain. They might also just never get thirsty. It’s random, and as useful as the person can make it.
There is one scene that might be triggering for some people involving a bit of rough sex. Danny surprises Mal, wanting to show off a new suit and play with his partner, only Mal isn’t in the mood. Danny is so blinded by his own inner demons and want that he doesn’t pay attention to Mal’s reactions. He doesn’t see that Mal is trembling not from lust, but fear, that it’s a careful note of appeasement in his voice rather than arousal, but when Mal finally tells Danny to stop, he — well, he doesn’t really have a chance. Mal uses his ice magic to throw Danny off the bed, but once Danny realizes what happens he’s honestly apologetic about it. I think the scene and it’s aftermath could have been handled with a little less hand-waving — Mal gets over it pretty quickly and they get back to the fun — but Mal isn’t one to show weakness and Danny isn’t exactly keyed into anyone’s emotions but his own at the moment.
All of this and I haven’t even touched on the plot, which involves a mysterious figure with an equally mysterious vendetta. As this is Olympic City, all of the heroes and villains take on mythical names — Zeus, Gaia, Prometheus, Helios — and there’s a new figure in town who wants to make a splash. He calls himself Hades and has a clever power and while he’s a bit two-dimensional in this first book, we don’t really get to meet him until the last portion. I have high hopes that the author will manage to give him as much depth and character as they did to the cast of heroes, villains, and support we’ve already seen.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, but even if it didn’t I’d still be eager for a second book in this world. The writing, pacing, and world building are all on point and I think the handling of a very delicate manner — depression and grief — was very well done. The characters, even the side characters, had a depth of personality that drew me into the story and I do hope to see more of them in the sequel. If you like superheroes, tormented heroes, or compelling heroes, I think you should give this book a try.