Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Like every teen, Anna has secrets. Unlike every teen, Anna has a telepath for a father and Commerce City’s most powerful businessperson for a mother. She’s also the granddaughter of the city’s two most famous superheroes, the former leaders of the legendary Olympiad, and the company car drops her off at the gate of her exclusive high school every morning. Privacy is one luxury she doesn’t have.
Hiding her burgeoning superpowers from her parents is hard enough; how’s she supposed to keep them from finding out that her friends have powers, too? Or that she and the others are meeting late at night, honing their skills and dreaming of becoming Commerce City’s next great team of masked vigilantes?
Like every mother, Celia worries about her daughter. Unlike every mother, Celia has the means to send Anna to the best schools and keep a close watch on her, every second of every day. At least Celia doesn’t have to worry about Anna becoming a target for every gang with masks and an agenda, like Celia was at Anna’s age.
As far as Celia knows, Anna isn’t anything other than a normal teen. Still, just in case, Celia has secretly awarded scholarships at Anna’s private high school to the descendants of the city’s other superpowered humans. Maybe, just maybe, these teens could one day fill the gap left by the dissolution of The Olympiad….”
I’m sure that you’ve all heard of tropes, those little clichés of fiction that form the background of our reading or watching experience. Some stories take delight in deconstructing those tropes—in this case, the ideas of superheroes as infallible, lawful, almost saintly figures. Of course, this isn’t a recent phenomenon: Batman as the Dark Knight is wildly popular, as are such violent characters as the cursed Ghost Rider or the revolutionary V. Animation has even taken this on with The Incredibles.
While Vaughn’s first novel in this storyline does indeed tackle the heroes, she focused more on Celia, the completely normal daughter of Commerce City’s two most powerful figures. This time out, Celia shares the spotlight with her own daughter Anna in alternating chapters. This works well as both a story for those who have read the first book, because familiar characters are revisited, and for those new to the tale, because Anna and her friends most definitely carry their own weight.
With Celia’s side of the story, readers get to see how a mother would react to having a child with superpowers. The fun part is, Celia has been watching for this for years and planning for it, since she grew up in a family with superpowered members. Even so, she still worries and wants to protect her daughter, although she knows that she can’t. It’s the “growing pains” scenario in a whole new light. Celia is a commanding character in her own right, even though she has no powers. She holds her own in a world more commonly populated by men and does so with strength and intelligence.
Anna is a very likable young woman, with a believable mix of teenage bravado and the caution learned from tales of her family’s exploits. Readers also get to see something that’s not often shown: heroes learning their powers and working to form a group that cooperates to fight crime. Just because she has powers doesn’t keep her from experiencing all the challenges of a high school girl, such as finding a date for the prom and staying awake in class after a long night of patrolling for bad guys. It’s this mix of the mundane and the fantastic that helps Anna’s character to really resonate.
I mentioned The Incredibles earlier, and for me at least, it’s impossible to not think of that movie when reading this book. This tale has the same innocence that we see in the animated movie, as well as the same challenges of heroes living normal lives—or as normal as they can. Vaughn is even less likely to shy away from the darker side of this kind of story, though. If you’ve read the first book, you know that even superheroes aren’t immune to tragedy, and that same plot thread carries into this novel. In fact, what happens here stems directly from the terrible events that ended After the Golden Age and provides a concrete link to that story.
Just because there’s darkness, though, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of humor. The author has fun writing some wry dialogue for the characters. One of my favorite quotes was Celia describing Anna’s reaction to something with the sentence “Oh, that sigh she gave would power wind turbines.” There are plenty of little gems of this sort scattered throughout the novel, and they keep the mood from getting too sober for too long.
I was so happy to see that After the Golden Age was getting a sequel, and my patience was rewarded with a wonderful story. Dreams of the Golden Age is an intelligent addition to the superhero genre. Whether you like to see heroes blasting away at problems or applying more subtle solutions, you’ll find something to like in this novel.