Superheroes seem to enjoying a surge in
popularity in visual media right now, with a number of big movies and expensive TV series
in production, and Ive noticed a growth in their appearance in print, and in books
without pictures at that. The advantage for the writer is that they are able to get into
the head of the nascent superhero, and explore how the individual feels about their
prodigal powers. This is something that Tihema Baker does very well; showing great skill
at getting inside the minds of teenagers and their relationships. Perhaps too much; I
spent a great deal of time while reading this novel wondering when the other shoe was
going to drop. When it did, only a few short chapters from the end, it did so with a
vengeance, and a great deal of action was squeezed into the last few pages.
The real difficulty is that this is essentially a "school for
superheroes" story, and that has been done, very thoroughly by the X-Men and Xavier's
School for Gifted Youngsters, and by numerous others. Even Disney has done this
trope, in the movie Sky High. It doesnt help that the young supers in Watched
have essentially the same origin story as the X-men; it may be called a
"prodigium" gene, but its still a genetic mutation, and that equates
prodigies to mutants. It would have helped if the author had come up with a more creative
origin story, maybe even something we hadnt seen before.
That said, the manipulation of dark matter (as opposed to darkness) is a
power that you dont find in many of the comics at least its something I
dont recall having come across previously. As is the use of the black robots called
Stalkers as assistants and as punch-bags in the training rooms. Though there is no
explanation for the advanced technology (some of it decidedly weird science) that they
represent. Or for the location of Castle Infinity, and what keeps it hidden from the eyes
of the world or what keeps it supplied with food and materials. I was also a bit
dubious about the power groups as they became apparent late in the story. If a
super-powered individual sees fit to create a hurricane in a populated area it
doesnt say much for their humanitarian values.
So, I shall give good marks for characterisation, good for writing style,
average in plotting, but poor for a lack of originality and of coherence in the
world-building department. I suspect that teenage boys will enjoy the action here, and it
is certainly nice to see a superhero story that kicks off in Wellington. Oh, and the
author does set up for a sequel.