3:30 pm EST, November 18, 2017

‘Not Your Villain’ book review: The Sidekick Squad strikes back

The Sidekick Squad are back and better than ever in Not Your Villain, the follow up novel to Not Your Sidekick.

About ‘Not Your Villain’ by C.B. Lee

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government?

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.

‘Not Your Villain’ review

I’m not sure how to articulate just how much I love and appreciate the Sidekick Squad series by C.B. Lee, but I’m certainly going to give it my best shot.

The first novel in the soon-to-be trilogy, Not Your Sidekick, was arguably one of my favorite books of 2016. With several queer main characters, romance, robots, superheroes, and a rollercoaster of a journey from the first page to the last, Sidekick hit all of my bookish loves.

And so, when Not You Villain was announced, I could hardly contain my excitement.

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Where Sidekick focused on Jess as the central character, Villain chose instead to tell the story from Bells’ perspective – a shapeshifting, trans teen, who was, for me, a beloved part of the first novel.

Though I highly recommend picking up Not Your Sidekick before you dive straight into Villain, the latter novel does jump back in the timeline somewhat, covering events of the first from Bells’ point of view. It was an interesting move, and a welcome one on my part, as it’d been some time since I’d picked up Sidekick. That revisiting of the events didn’t derail or slow down the plot whatsoever for me, but rather provided some wonderful insight into Bells’ experience.

Of course, once the book catches up to and overtakes that point, it is full-steam ahead through the novel’s conclusion, and Lee expertly expanded on the themes of the series’ debut. There’s nothing quite like the found-family narrative, nor the team up against a corrupt government, and the unrelenting optimism and power of a group of largely queer-identifying teens.

Going into Villain, and knowing that it was from Bells’ perspective, I had wondered how Lee would explore his shapeshifting powers alongside his identifying as trans. Though I’m queer, I am neither non-binary nor trans, and so I cannot speak wholly to how accurately Lee capture those experiences, but I felt it was a sensitive and respectful portrayal – his identity is never questioned, and his chosen pronouns were respected and used consistently. It was, honestly, completely refreshing.

Also refreshing? That a potentially ace-identifying character was allowed the space to figure out where they fit on the spectrum, without once delegitimizing it or their journey. I know, I know. It’s a low bar, but it is there for a reason.

And, though we spend time with the rest of the Sidekick Squad – including Jess, Abby, and their relationship – Bells, as he should be, was the true standout once again. His vulnerability and excitement at being a hero was so incredibly heartfelt and genuinely touching. His need and desire for justice, despite being publicly maligned and labelled a villain, took him from strength to strength, and was a joy to behold as I turned each and every page.

Bells certainly wasn’t alone in his struggles and triumphs and – as hinted in Not Your Sidekick – we got a wealth of time spent on Emma and Bells’ friendship. Its ups and downs, including some serious moments where it was tested, was such a core part of this novel, and one that I could not get enough of. The two have a relationship that is palpable and beautiful, and I’m looking forward to see how it develops beyond Not Your Villain.

Overall, Not Your Villain was a story I absolutely needed to read, at exactly the right time. From the theme of what makes a hero or villain – and the media’s role in that narrative – to the message that if you believe in being and doing good, in being a hero, then you are one, it empowered me in my desire to do and be as the Sidekick Squad is.

Not Your Villain was the perfect follow-up to Not Your Sidekick and I cannot wait to see where Lee takes the story next.

Not Your Villain is available now from Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

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