Renegades by Marissa Meyer tackles a familiar genre in a brand new way.
The superhero genre is a tricky one to translate into novel form. Hatched on drawing pads and reborn into cinematic franchises, superhero stories have a inherent color and kineticism that often defies the printed page.
Luckily Renegades, the a new novel by Lunar Chronicles author Marissa Meyer, takes the challenge as an opportunity. Blending familiar trappings of the genre with youthful energy, angst, and a dash of mystery, Meyer delivers an engagingly thoughtful take on superheroics and their consequences.
To start, Meyer tackles the origin story from an unusual angle, setting Renegades about 16 years after fans of the genre might expect. Most of the familiar movements of superhero epics have already played out by the time the story begins. The disparate group of scrappy young heroes has already coalesced, already defeated evil, and have now become the powered equivalent of middle-aged bureaucrats.
It’s the second generation in a world adjusting to supermen-and-women that interests Meyer in Renegades — the children raised in a new normal of dominant heroes and villains resigned to the shadows. With the architecture of heroism already in place, Renegades can question the ethics and perpetuation of a system we all might be disposed to view as utopian.
An imaginary world dominated by benevolent, crime-fighting “prodigies” sounds awfully appealing; the reality Meyers explores is somewhat different.
Aiming the heart of the story at character rather than ability, Meyers unspools the world of Renegades through the eyes of two young rivals who with radically different perspectives. Nova and Adrian are survivors of the same war (and have the emotional scars to prove it,) both conceal the true nature of their powers, and both are thoroughly convinced of the rightness of their own cause.
Unfortunately, they also happen to be on opposite sides. Adrian’s fathers are two of the city’s foremost Renegades; Nova has been raised in the festering underground of Anarchists, who professionally resent the restrictions placed on their movements by their enemies. In the spirit of the genre, our two protagonists find their way into each other’s lives — blissfully unaware of the other’s alter-ego.
Renegades does take some time to get its gears in motion, a drop in pace particularly evident after a truly explosive prologue. Nova and Adrian are each cogs in much larger machines and — interesting as their surroundings are — the path to their careful collision can be a bit painstaking.
Once the pieces fall into place however, Meyer’s knack for relentlessly-paced storytelling kicks back in. As fans of her work have come to expect, the worldbuilding of Renegades is smart and comprehensive, her action scenes clean and creative. Adrian and Nova’s journeys are complimented by complicated secondary characters on both sides (though some of these might be a bit too reminiscent of classic comic book creations.)
For all of its energy, Renegades doesn’t often try to compete with the brilliant visuality to which superhero fans are so accustomed. As reflected in the moody setting of crumbling Gatlon City, Renegades is a novel that feels slightly leeched of color; it’s much more Gotham than it is The Flash. There is a muted, quiet quality to the world that Meyer only interrupts on occasion with a gout of blood, a roar of fire, or a vivid and slightly ironic costume.
But that means that Renegades adapts its strengths to the form it takes. As a novel, it observed and interrogates the injustices of Gatlon City, weighing good and evil against shifting scales. Renegades is not a comic book dressed up as a novel; it is clear that Marissa Meyer speaks both languages, and translates accordingly.
Though there are a few bumps along the way, Renegades is an able and exciting invitation to a complicated world as unnerving as it is familiar. Closing on a rather wicked heightening of the story’s stakes, established fans and new readers alike will find themselves eager to return — and learn what other powers Marissa Meyer is still hiding up her sleeve.
Renegades by Marissa Meyer lands in your local bookstore on Nov. 7.