Rexley Nova is the baby of his extended family. His uncle Roux, his Lady Mars (mother figure, witch protector, life coach, person who lives with Rex and his uncle), his best friends, his best friend’s parents, and the rest of the small town of Colbie all do their part to protect him from the world outside. But Rex is tired of being babied. He wants to be like Caleb, Tate, and Mei. He wants to be a superhero. And now that he’s 20, Rex’s finally going to get his way. Maybe. Hopefully.
Rex, Caleb, Tate, and Mei were part of a scientific experiment when they were children by Rex’s father, who was testing a substance called Liquid Onyx. It was supposed to make superheroes, and it did! But only in children, ideally very young children. In adults, it was a death sentence. If it didn’t kill them outright, it drove them mad, much like it did Rex’s father. Liquid Onyx turned Rex’s father into a supervillain. And then he died.
Rex wants to be a hero. Not to redeem his father or to prove himself; he wants to be a hero to be with his friends. And to get a chance to meet Damon North, another Liquid Onyx survivor, another child used by his father. The same child who killed Rex’s father, and in doing so, saved not only the world, but Rex, as well. Damon, whose blue eyes make Rex’s knees go weak and mouth go dry, Damon who haunts both his nightmares and his dreams.
This is the first book in the Liquid Onyx series, which has both superheroes and supervillains (though the only supervillain in this book is Rex’s dead father), government agencies and agents, as well as witches and magic. It’s an interesting mix that isn’t fully explored in this book, which is 90% exposition and character building, 5% plot, and 5% world building. It’s a 500 page look into Rex’s life, rather than being a book about being a superhero, which means you’re going to get an earful (eyeful) of everything Rexley Xander Nova is.
Rex is the manic pixie dream boy of everyone’s dreams (or nightmares). He’s an elfin, beautiful twink with constant foot-in-mouth disease. He’s kooky and quirky, whimsical and wacky. He’s the best friend in the world, the smartest person in the room, the sparkliest snowflake in the blizzard, and the star of every show. I think readers will either be charmed by him, or very, very tired of him — and since the book is entirely from his POV, there is even time for both.
For the first third of the book, I was so tired of Rex. So tired of the penguin of doom style of humor — look, they have a duck! Look, Roux wears pink sneakers! Look, Lady Mars made another wacky and strange bit of furniture! Look, look, look! So much whimsy, so much quirky! — that I honestly thought about putting the book down because I didn’t see anything to hold my interest in the character, especially with no plot in sight. But then, small scenes started slipping in, of James’ panic attacks, Tate’s depression, Caleb’s obsessive need to protect Rex, that I started to see the character behind the “I’m so funny, laugh with me, laugh with me!” schtick.
Rex is traumatized. He’s made of so much glue and glitter and flamboyant personality in an effort to hide, even from and especially from his friends and family. He can’t be his father’s son, not when the father in question caused so much pain and death. He can’t even talk to anyone about his father or his mother. The mention of Alex Nova sends Roux (Rex’s uncle, guardian, and father figure) into a deep fugue of pain and loss. Rex can’t be weak, because it makes everyone around him want to smother him in their protection. He can’t be angry, because he’s too busy keeping everyone around him happy. He can’t be sad, because he has to keep his friends laughing.
However, those glimpses of a darker, needier, less perfect Rex are few and far between because Rex seems to be so very focused on being the Manic Pixie Dream Boy Rex the amazing, astounding, astonishing maladroit who can’t string two words together, the beloved fool capering for everyone’s attention.
One problem I had with this book is the fact that — perhaps owing to this being told from Rex’s POV — everyone sounds the same. Everyone is so quirky, so gosh-darn-funny, throwing meme worthy conversations and pop culture references like confetti. The random moments that are meant to be funny don’t always land. The jokes can feel forced, and I found myself sighing more than smiling while reading. However, I fully acknowledge that humor is so very subjective. There will be people who delight in the author’s humor. There will be people who don’t. I just happen fall in the middle of the two.
The only two people who aren’t a part of the circus, who play the straight men for all the comedy bits, are James — the older, non-super brother of Rex’s best friend — and Damon, the hero of the city who saved Rex when he was a child. James is familiar, safe, and very much caught by Rex’s charm. He’s comforting, loving, and familiar with, accepting of, and forgiving all of Rex’s faults and fabulosity. Damon is … well, dangerous. He, like the other Liquid Onyx survivors, is laden with traumatic baggage (as is James, though Rex is less aware of his problems, seeing him as older and more mature), he’s dramatic and powerful and … new. Rex has his action figure. Rex hero worships him, wants his attention, wants to get under his skin and make his perfect facade crack.
This book is a slow burn with an emphasis on the slow. Rex isn’t a prude, but he’s cautious with Damon, not sure what he even wants when it comes to other man, just knowing that he wants. And when it comes to James and what he offers Rex, Rex is choosing not to see it. Because seeing it means he’ll have to make a choice and that’s a choice that could change the dynamic in his small family.
The writing of this book is first person conversational and it’s all style — which normally I’m not a fan of, but the author does it so slickly and so smoothly and so well that I found it easy to read. Rex’s voice is strong and on point through the book. There’s not much character growth in this first book, because the pacing is so heavily weighted to showing the found family dynamics that there’s not much time for an arc or plot development. While I did, eventually, learn to like Rex (for the most part), I found the antics of Lady Mars and Roux to be exhausting rather than entertaining.
If you’re interested in this book — a character heavy book with an honestly interesting and insightful character; a book which is almost entirely a setup for future books in the series — I suggest trying a sample first. If you don’t enjoy Rex’s voice or personality in the first few pages, it’s going to be a very, very long book for you. However, if you like Rex, or the author’s sense of humor, then you’re in for a fun read.