Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Tower (J. S. Frankel)

The Tower
J. S. Frankel
Untreed Reads
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Most thirteen-year-old boys don't think much about death, but Bill Lampkin has no choice; Death has been stalking him since he was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, the disease that took his mother when he was six. With his father hiding in a bottle, he spends his days surrounded by doctors and other sick children, with little but superhero comic books to ease his loneliness. At last, after a brief remission, Bill reaches the end... and makes his escape, determined to die on his own terms and not in a hospital bed. Instead of death, he finds a strange green door, and beyond - something impossible.
Bill wakes in another world, surrounded by superheroes straight from the pages of his comic books, albeit with slightly different costumes and names. This alternate Earth, while outwardly much like his own, has greatly advanced technology and even magic, not to mention the unexplained powers of the heroic Ultras. They even managed to knock out his leukemia, at least for the time being, though the process aged him several years. For a boy facing a lonely death, it's a dream come true, especially when the hot girl hero Oriana takes a liking to him. But all is not as it seems on the Tower, the orbital home base of the superhero Association. Even as Bill settles into his new life, he can't help wondering what's really going on. What does the Ultra leader, Avenger, really do all day? Why can't he find any information on their origins? And what happened to all the supervillians?
An eBook-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This starts on a good note, with an atypical protagonist. Bill isn't the usual world-hopping hero, the Joe Average kid who stumbles into an adventure, but a dying and desperate boy. He isn't even a huge fan of superheroes; he only reads comics because they were all he had on hand, gifts from a less fortunate roommate. Suddenly faced with a future, one populated with impossible heroes no less, he struggles to adapt... and here the story bogs down, lingering far too long on Bill's efforts to find a place among the grunt-worker "normal" humans despite his unusually close relations with the Ultras, who usually keep to themselves. The novelty of the behind-the-scenes look at superhero life, the dynamics of the support crew and other extras glossed over in the comics and movies, wears thin quickly, especially with the tired plot mechanism of a dumb bully and his cronies who must be defeated before Bill can truly call the Tower home. By the time he finally starts getting back to his initial skepticism, questioning the too-perfect Ultras and trying to find answers, I'd grown more than a little antsy. The answers he uncovers, after plenty of wheel-spinning and brick-wall-hitting and second-guessing (Bill's relationship with the Ultra Oriana is threatened more than once by his obsession), stretch credulity nearly to the breaking point. A last-minute antagonist pops up to stretch out the climax, followed by another plot twist (which I'd guessed by the halfway point) and a drawn-out wrap-up that tries too hard to be profound... during which Bill sits down and explains to the reader how his adventures made him grow and change as a human being. I was there, Bill, remember?
I liked some of the ideas here, and there was a decent story at the heart of it. It just seemed overlong to me. The Kindle edition also could've used sharper proofreading; several quotation marks were missing or misplaced, as were paragraph breaks.

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