Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Patrick Boylan
Length: 9 hours, 25 minutes
Neil Harris is the fifth super to bear the name of Striker (hence Striker V). He can leap buildings, punch things very hard, heal from almost every injury, and, with his touch empathy, see into the minds of other people. He’s also just fucking tired. Day after day, monster after monster, there isn’t a week that goes by that he isn’t feeling the pain of being beaten, thrown, burned, or broken — or all of the above — and Neil’s powers keep putting him together so he can keep going on. And on. And on. Today’s fight is at least a little more interesting since it’s against his best friend, Erica, better known as Ventrica. She’s the latest superhero to have gone rogue and it’s up to Striker to stop her, to put her down if necessary.
But fighting his oldest and dearest friend is just one more fight, one more soul crushing, spirit numbing battle that Neil isn’t certain he can survive, even if he wins. And when he does — because of course he does, he’s Striker — things only get worse. Being congratulated for it, being called a hero for it, and then given less than a full day to recover before it’s time to find and kill the next monster of the week.
Neil can bear a lot. He can take just about anything the world wants to dish out, but he can’t take everything. And he can’t take this. But it’s not like there’s a choice, is there? Today there’s yet another world destroying monster, but this time it’s coming after supers, and promising Neil he’ll be the last alive, only able to die after watching everyone else suffer. No, Neil’s had enough. Enough of being a hero, enough of doing what he’s told, and enough of everything.
He’s breaking Erica out of prison and finding out what’s really going on. Why are super heroes suddenly deciding to stop being heroes? And why did she turn on him? And oh, yes, does she want to come along and help beat up an Elemental monster?
Neil is a 30-plus year old superhero who has been in training and combat since he was 15. He’s suffering from PTSD and depression, but no one seems to notice or care. He hides it all with a smirk and a sarcastic quip that might be gallows humor if there was less snark in it. Instead, he just comes across as a bit of a jerk which … is fair. He’s not interested in making friends, and the ones he does have (other than Erica and his non-super boyfriend Evan) he’s friendly with, if not overly close to. Even Evan, his boyfriend of seven years, doesn’t seem to be aware of just how deep the well of depression is, which is odd.
Neil’s power — the one that makes him unique rather than just another brawler in the Striker uniform — is his telempathy. With it he can sift through the thoughts and memories of other people, all while being just as open to them. In less than a second, he can share his entire life with someone, and share theirs in return. He and Evan sift almost every time they meet, certainly every time they have sex, but Evan doesn’t seem to notice how close Neil is to just … not coming back from the next fight.
Erica, though, has noticed. She uses Neil’s sift against him, having another superhero help her implant a lasting memory of herself — almost a piece of her — into Neil’s mind as a little voice that goads him, laughs at him, comforts him, and pokes at him in an effort to wake him up to the fact that he’s more than just Striker V waiting for Striker VI to take his place. He’s Neil. He’s her friend, he’s human, and he deserves to take a break, to rest, to recover from what he’s been through. He’s worth more than a costume and he’s loved.
Unfortunately, this story fell apart for me on a lot of levels. Without going too much into spoilers, Erica’s story didn’t work. She and a handful of other heroes are fighting back against their friends, but nothing comes of it. And why is Erica the only one in jail? What about the others? Did they get away? Does the government have more than one superpowered jail lying around for rogue heroes? A lot is mentioned about public response to heroes, but how did they respond to her trying to kill Striker in the first place? The storyline is a clumsy mess that doesn’t end up going anywhere.
The way in which Josh Vidmar has built the world of Striker — the government agencies in charge of finding these superpowered individuals as children and training them up, the naming conventions, the descriptions of powers — works nicely and is interesting to read about, but in a world where monsters attack every day with enough regularity that you have multiple heroes patrolling the same area not for show, but because monsters, demons, and super villains will approach is kind of overkill. The writing is serviceable, but there is a lot of repeating. Neil will have a thought, then repeat it almost verbatim. He’s also non-stop snark, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does make for a rather one-note character. Like with comedy, some people will enjoy this flavor of snark while others won’t. Myself, I felt as though the snark was forced in a few areas, and overused in others.
There are some odd moments of humor, like the car commercial where the author goes on in glowing detail over a character’s car and how cool it is, how economical, smart, and trendy, and how much Niel would like to buy one. Also a very pro Olive Garden section talking about how good their food is that almost felt like a sponsored moment, and a very pro-police monologue about how they’re the real heroes. These moments stood out because they’re some of the few places Neil wasn’t snarking all over the place, and they felt a little out of sync with the rest of the book.
Towards the end, Neil has a moment with Evan that didn’t land for me the way I think it was supposed to have. After everything Neil has been through — and at this point it’s a lot, a combination of physical, emotional and psychic trauma and abuse — all he wants is to go home and sleep. And eat, maybe take a shower, and go back to sleep only to find Evan waiting for him at home. Evan is supposed to be Neil’s soul mate, the man he loves, but I don’t buy it. To me, it felt like Evan was there simply to be there, to give Neil a lover because he should have one rather than Evan being someone Neil cared for. The scenes they had together didn’t have the same tone as the rest of the story, and Neil — through his actions and his thoughts — didn’t seem all that invested in his boyfriend of seven years, ignoring him, forgetting about him, and not thinking about him until someone else brought him up. It left me feeling as though the romance is just tacked on to fill out a relationship tag rather than being an actual part of Neil’s story.
I was, however, pleased with how Neil’s depression and PTSD are addressed, with Neil making a point to comment on how he needed to first acknowledge that he had a problem so that he could get help, and that he wouldn’t have lasted so long or been able to heal without his support system of Erica and Evan, and his supervisor mentions getting him a therapist. For a character who has been living through so much violence through almost half of his life, it’s nice to see it tastefully and respectfully addressed.
I was fortunate enough to listen to the audio version narrated by Patrick Boylan. He managed to sell Neil’s snark, his exhaustion, his depression and indifference, as well as his anger, his sulking, and his whining. He truly made Neil someone I could sympathize with. However, his accent work — with Erica, the superheroes Tykie and Nightcrawler, and the villain of the story — was inconsistent, sometimes there and sometimes not, and the villain sounded more like a vampire than anything else. Other than those small issues, Boylan kept the energy up and I was engaged enough to find the experience pleasant. If you’re interested in this story, I do recommend the audiobook!