With you, I wanna kick it; ‘cause you turn up my spirit; so let’s take the script and flip it: let’s flip up Not Your Sidekick, by C. B. Lee.
Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
Not Your Sidekick presents an interesting setting: a soft post-apocalypse world where people try to continue their lives as usual in the wake of a disastrous stellar event which both devastated much of the world and give rise to the first superhumans. Jess, born to superpowered parents and with a superpowered older sister, always expected to become a hero herself; but when she fails to develop powers, she instead finds herself working as an intern for the local supervillains. Quite a fine premise.
I do have to say, I found most of the book’s twists a bit too easy to guess. I mean, I’m pretty sure that it’s supposed to be super-obvious that “M” is actually Abby – the synopsis even calls attention to it. But I figured out pretty much everything else in advance of the reveals as well: that Abby was the daughter of Master Mischief and Mistress Mischief and had inherited both of her parents’ powers, that her parents had been imprisoned by the secretly evil and dystopian government, that the superhero/supervillain fights were actually a bread-and-circuses act put on to entertain and distract the public, that Jess actually did have a superpower which she was subconsciously using to find things, and that Bells was Chameleon. Really, I should not have been able to guess all that, but the hints were all so obvious that they stuck out like sore thumbs. Maybe it’s because the book is for younger readers, who need things spelled out for them a bit more.
Then there’s the ending; or should I say, non-ending? Because a heckuva lot of plotlines seem to have been left unresolved. For instance: Cordelia and Captain Orion are still at large. Abby hasn’t gotten her superpowers back. Jess never got around to asking her parents why they didn’t expect her to have superpowers. Master Mischief is still locked away in some hellhole of a prison somewhere, but Mistress Mischief seems content spending her time baking cookies rather than, say, demanding Jess use her power to determine where he is so they can go rescue him right this very instant. And with Mr. Mischief still gone and Abby unable to use the suit without her powers, there’s nothing to stop Gregory Stone from taking over the company. But whatever, that’s standard sequel-hook stuff. Now, it is quite a few more sequel-hooks than I’m comfortable with: generally, the first book ends on a high note and it’s not until the second that the Empire strikes back, but the protagonists really did kind of fail miserably in every single regard here. Even in a continuity-heavy series, I kind of expect each book to have its own self-contained plot arc and climax; for at least something to be accomplished. Here it seems that each and every plot thread was left dangling, with not a single resolution to be found; like it’s half of a book instead of a whole first book. But okay, okay, I can deal. Except for one little thing…
So, Captain Orion’s whole plan was to get the backdoor codes for the MonoRobots so she could activate their defense programs and turn them all into state-controlled assassins capable of eliminating all enemies of the government and solidifying their dystopian authoritarian regime. And in the end, she said that she’d gotten the codes, and got away clean without the heroes being able to do anything to stop her or her plan. Um… that strikes me not so much of a cliffhanger, as a “game over”. I mean, the villain won. She got what she needs to start Judgement Day. I don’t see how you come back from that.
I guess the only ray of hope the heroes might have is how ludicrously incompetent these authoritarian dystopias tend to be. For instance: Chameleon says he’s fine despite being branded a villain because the Hero League doesn’t know his real identity. Um, he did have a DED, right? One of those devices which are universally monitored by the government and which require a citizen PIN to use? But even assuming he’s somehow in the clear – Jess and Abby’s parents both straight-up worked for the government through the Hero League and Villain Guild. I think they know where they live. But of course, this super-oppressive government, which is seeking to develop a way to target and kill its own citizens at any time for any reason, isn’t going to bother to do anything to stop the people who have discovered its nefarious plan. I mean, they’re clearly no threat: eliminating them would be overkill! Which makes you wonder why they even want a universally deployed net of robot assassins, if they don’t consider rebels to be significant enough to warrant even the less-draconian security measures already in place…
But despite the lack of resolution offered in this book, I, the eternal optimist, shall choose to put my trust in this series and believe that a satisfactory conclusion to all the dangling plot threads will forthcoming in future books. Thus, based on the merits of the story and characters of this story and not holding the non-ending against it, I give it a tentative thumbs-up.
Final Rating: 3/5