There are two events in Cal Bolden’s life that have unquestionably shaped him: one, being outed as gay in high school; and two, his dad going AWOL when his parents divorced. Being outed gave Cal an aversion to any and all kinds of confrontation, to the extent that he never fights back when being treated unfairly or even advocates for himself. The fact that contact with his dad virtually stopped as soon as the man was out the door left Cal with serious trust issues. Case in point, his long-term boyfriend, Jin, has been asking about the two of them moving in together, but Cal’s not so sure how it would work. For now, Cal’s doing well enough living at home with his mom and working construction…he just needs some time and space to get his freelance photography dreams off the ground. The night Cal catches a meteor shower after a night construction gig, Cal gets off the ground in a far more literal way.
For decades, Ted Foyle has dedicated his life to human genetic studies. He is obsessed with creating superhero-like humans as payback for all the people who laughed at him when he was younger. Ten years ago, Ted—aka Dr. Almighty—finally had a breakthrough with two subjects: young Fernando and his sister, Margo. Dr. Almighty imbued the former with powerfully destructful hands and the latter with the gift of flight. Since then, Dr. Almighty has waited and watched for the perfect specimen to become his Holy Trinity, one who has superhuman strength, the power of flight, and who can self heal. He finds such a specimen working a dead end construction job. A few caveats hinder the doctor’s plan to get his comeuppance on his perceived enemies, however. One is that Holy Trinity, aka Cal, has no interest in being a superhero. The other is that Fernando and Margo are not the loyal subjects Dr. Almighty assumes they are. Together, Cal, Fernando, and Margo embark on a daring campaign to end the doctor’s scheming.
If nothing else, Captain Stellar capitalizes on the superhero craze, but balances it with a reluctant hero. First, Cal is basically kidnapped after work and wakes up in a strange location with the ability to fly. Rather than enter into a Peter Parker montage of “this is awesome, let’s figure it out,” Cal does what he does best: suppresses the fact that he can fly. There is a brief mention of him having to be careful at his construction job with his newly discovered super strength, as well. From the get go, Cal seems so very uninterested in these powers. I liked this juxtaposition in a superhuman universe.
That said, there are a lot of plot and continuity issues surrounding the superpowered characters. For example, it was never clear who was responsible for the kidnapping (because if Fernando, Margo, and Cal are any indication, Ted kidnaps a lot of his test subjects). Sometimes it was clearly Ted—which makes sense. since making superheroes is sort of his bag. Sometimes, it seemed like it was Fernando and Margo—which makes sense. since they’ve been under Ted’s thumb since they were kidnapped themselves. But it didn’t make any sense to me that these two would only act on their conscience once Cal enters the picture. Also, Ted’s had the ability to create superhumans for at least 10 years. He has a whole laboratory set up to train these people. Yet only test subjects who have been captured during the on-page timeline of the main story appear in the book. I never knew what happened to the years’ of previous recruits who presumably also have superpowers and were trained to use them. This is thrown into sharp relief when it’s made abundantly clear that no other superheroes have ever been seen in the world when a cell-phone video of Cal using his powers goes viral.
Moving on to romance elements in Captain Stellar, the book begins with Cal coupled up with his college sweetheart, Jin. Sorrento does a bang up job capturing the lopsided dynamic between the two. Hands down, I liked Jin and his sad little love story with Cal the best. From the very beginning, Cal’s phobia of commitment is clearly and consistently captured in the character’s thoughts and deeds. This is later backed up by Cal’s admission that his own parents’ divorce is what makes it so hard for him to be the boyfriend he knows Jin wants and deserves. Jin is not perfect, but he also is shown to value the relationship (however imperfect) he has with Cal. For example, Jin has the patience of a saint when Cal is late (or completely misses) their dates and doesn’t jump onto the histrionics train even when Jin catches Cal snogging another man or lying about where he’s been.
Speaking of romance, I love me a tortured character. Fernando fits that bill…he literally cannot touch anything without it turning to ash, thanks to his superpower. This has jaded the twenty-six-year old somewhat. The only thing is, the descriptions about when and how and where his power works were haphazard at best. Sometimes, it seemed like ALL his skin had this ability. But then Fernando’s food doesn’t turn to ash as soon as it touches his lips. He takes pains to wear gloves, but then also wears t-shirts, leaving some skin exposed and seemingly a potential risk. Anyway. It’s clear from the get-go that Fernando has Feels for Cal. I liked that Cal has Feels back, but is also conflicted because Cal also has Jin. If you like “the other lover” type set ups, this thread will probably please you. Personally, I thought the chemistry between Fernando and Cal relied heavily on simply physical attraction at first, but there are a handful of very small details that try to flesh out what they like about one another.
Overall, however, I had a difficult time getting into this book. The superhero plot felt clunky and chaotic to me for many reasons. Fernando’s powers are not explained well; there should be 10 years’ worth of superpowered humans, but Cal’s the first one to ever be made publicly known, it’s never clearly explained what Fernando and Margo are training Ted’s recruits for—but that sure comes in handy when they need to train Cal. The writing itself also suffers from multiple little continuity issues, such as wonky timing or characters knowing things they could not possibly know. For die-hard superhero fans or people who like the trope of meeting your one true love while dating someone else, you might enjoy this book.