Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen by Richard Roberts

Anyone who has been reading my blog knows I’m a big fan of Richard Roberts’ “Please Don't Tell My Parents” books. “Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen” is the third book of the series and after reading it, I must say I like the new direction Roberts is taking the series.

At the end of the second book (“Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon”), Penny Akk (still determined to be a superhero) decided that the best way to be recognized as a superhero was to have a second super identity outside supervillain Bad Penny. A challenge from a schoolmate gave her that chance but after a public fight at a school football match, Penny’s parents shut down her superhero career before it could begin.

However all is not lost because the public superpowered fight encouraged more of her schoolmates to come out in the open with their powers. As it had been hinted before, a lot of kids at the school have powers and as they joined Penny’s official superpower school club, Penny became de facto leader of them. The school even roped in retired supervillain, Bull, as an advisor.

Unlike the first two books, “Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen” is more of a coming-of-age story and you know what; I dig it. The members of The Inscrutable Machine are growing up and Roberts isn’t afraid to show it in this book. Ray is thinking of leaving L.A; Claire is thinking of a solo career as a cat burglar; Penny actually starts the book as a solo superhero. Kids grow up and when they do, they drifted apart. It would have been easy for Roberts to just continue their adventures as a group, but credit to him for not taking the easy way out.

The story has morphed from the misadventures of a trio of 13 year old kids to a story of these same kids grappling with the future, sometimes to their own surprise. Penny found out she don’t really like being a leader with underlings. She could do the job but would much rather spent the time she has toying with her inventions and hanging out with her friends. Claire understood her best friend would rather be a hero, so she’s considering how she could make it as a solo villain (I don’t see why she can’t hire henchmen. With her money and powers, controlling henchmen should be a breeze).

Ray even has two potential careers outside the normal superhero/supervillain routes lined up once school is done. This is a bit of world-building from the writer who built a world where superpowers are if not normal, at least not rare, so it make sense there are careers out there for superpowered people who do not want to fight.

Character growth seems to be the name of the game in this book, and not just for the main characters. The side characters also got their moment in the sun. Claudia reconciled with her father, Bull, and is seriously considering ending her superhero career as Generic Girl. Marcia actually stole items from both heroes and villains to gain superpowers, and became friendlier with Penny because of it. Bull retired and became a superpower mentor at school. Several new side characters were introduced in this book and most of them also grew in personality and power throughout the course of the book. At the start of the book, Beaddown was certain her powers were useless for combat but at the end, she was one of the most powerful kids with a versatile power setup. My personal favourite was Charlie who went from joke of the school to someone who could make it.

I also like the fact that sometimes the superpowers give as much problems as benefits.  Gathering Shadows has superhero parents that believe her power set are not suitable to being a hero and Marcia’s new powers makes her crazy. It’s not always roses when you have a superpower and that’s how it should be.

Having said all that, I can understand why some fans did not like this book. It’s honestly a different kind of book from the first two. “Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen” is more sedate and lack the energy of the first two books. In some ways, this is understandable. Put together, the first two book took place within 2 months. The timeline of this book is about half a year. It’s much slower paced than the earlier two books.

Also, there’s not much of The Inscrutable Machine being together. Again, this is due to the structure of the book which has Penny, Claire and Ray doing their own thing most of the time. Sure, they are together in school; Penelope and Ray get on with their relationship on; and Penny and Claire went on a heist; but there’s little action with all 3 of them together. Like I said earlier, sometimes growing up means drifting apart.

Overall, I have to say this was an excellent book. It doesn’t clear the high bar set by “Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain”, but I have to rate it as better than “Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon”. Just be warned; it’s not the same book as the first two. “Please Don't Tell My Parents” is a coming-of-age story, not an action-adventure story. Personally, I liked it. Bring on Book 4, “Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have a Nemesis”.

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