Superheroes have become a major part of today’s popular culture thanks to bajillion dollar film franchises and the many television series that have graced the airwaves for the past decade, but that wasn’t always the case. Comic books have driven decades long fandoms, giving way to the many heroes we now know and love. I guarantee every one of us has wondered what it would be like to live in a world of superheroes. Would we ourselves become heroes? Would the world be a safer place?
In Bystander 27, Rik Hoskin examines what it means to live in a world where street battles and constant fights for justice happen on a regular basis. With a start similar to that of The Boys, we follow a protagonist who is a hero in a more traditional sense, seeking to discover answers to a tragedy that rips his life away from him. What results is a fascinating look into these larger-than-life figures from the perspective of a guy on the streets who has more questions than are probably good for him. In the end, nothing is as it seems.
I was most impressed with Hoskin’s ability to keep the action running and the plot twists exciting. There are so many tropes in superhero stories and he playfully included them alongside the running narrative and the constant twists and turns of a world that’s clearly distanced from any kind of stable reality. I continued to find myself riveted by the unfolding mysteries and couldn’t put the book down. The story is fresh and interesting from start to finish, and it’s a fitting addition to the genre.
On top of the general conversation about how terrifying and dangerous a superhero world truly is, there was an ongoing conversation about grief and its effect on the mind that I found particularly moving. Our protagonist is a man who can’t cope with the death of his wife, especially given that he witnessed the horrifying event itself. Throughout, it’s unclear as to whether he remains a reliable narrator as he begins to recount events that seem impossible. The story is integrated well into the action-packed timeline, giving us insight into the unimaginable pain of a man who has lost his family and the impossible path to overcoming that grief.
On a final note, the ending is done brilliantly – I won’t reveal anything beyond that, but it feels like it needs to be said. Everything you’ve read comes together into an ‘aha’ moment and makes you want to go back and read again given what’s revealed.
Overall, I was impressed by Bystander 27 for its twist on the superhero genre. Once again, Angry Robot comes through with a story that’s engaging, well written, and multifaceted. For superheroes, supervillains, and all of the innocent bystanders in between, this is the ultimate story that pairs reality and fiction to create a book that’s impossible to put down.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
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