Like I said last month, I’m going to post some reviews here. I picked Contractor by Andrew Ball to review first for a reason, a few reasons, actually.
Reason #1 – This book is awesome. It’s also over four years old, so expect a few spoilers here.
What makes Contractor awesome? It has magic. And aliens. And people getting superpowers. Basically, the trifecta of awesomeness.
The story follows the fate of small-town high school student, Daniel Fitzgerald, as he graduates, moves to the big city (Boston) for college, and gets unwillingly drafted into a secret multi-universal war between aliens.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the beginning. The novel doesn’t start filled with alien magic badassary. It starts with Daniel coping with a mother who passed away and a dad who checked out, leaving him to take care of his little brother. Then there’s the usual problems, school, bullies, and finally, superpowers and interstellar war.
Another thing I enjoyed about this book is that it actually includes an origin story. These days, it seems in vogue for people in stories to be born with superpowers, X-Men style. (Side note that most comic book fans already know: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented the X-Men because they were tired of coming up with new ways to give people superpowers.) And while I like the X-Men as much as the next guy, whatever happened to aliens handing out superpowers Greatest American Hero style?
Enter alien frogman, Xik.
From there, the rest of the novel spools out. There’s a girl (of course), and another girl (it’s complicated, but not the way you think), and a new roommate/best friend, and a secret society of magicians that now see Daniel as the bogeyman. See, the magicians have already been fighting in the secret interstellar war to protect the Earth. They just happen to be getting their asses handed to them. But, by accepting powers from Xik, Daniel has become a contractor, a particularly heinous abomination to the traditional magicians.
They have their reasons.
Reasons which mostly involve a contractors’ ability to get stronger by absorbing an alien’s power after killing them. An alien’s, or a magician’s, or a regular person’s . . . it’s a slippery slope, and it’s easy to see why magicians aren’t fans of contractors (oh yeah, there’s more contractors than just Daniel.) Really, which side of that equation you come down on depends if you’re an ends justify the means, fight fire with fire, kind of person, or a principles only mean something if they aren’t cast aside when they become inconvenient, kind of person.
Personally, I think if there’s anytime for the gloves to come off, it’s during a secret alien interstellar war.
Regardless, where the story really shines, is the interpersonal relationships between Daniel and Rachel (the girl), Eleanor (the other girl), and his roommate (Jack). Sure, the aliens, magic, and superpowers are awesome, but they remain the backdrop of the story rather than the story itself.
You may be thinking, “Got it, dude. You liked the book. But was it really all rainbows and butterflies? There must have been something about it you didn’t like.”
There were a couple things. For instance, there’s some college-age male homophobic dialogue which kind of grates after a while. But my least favorite thing about the book is the second reason I’d picked it to review first:
Reason #2 – The book’s title. Or rather, it’s subtitle: (The Contractors #1)
Stay with me here, I promise I’m not crazy. The subtitle specifically says #1. Now in my mind, that means it’s Book One of . . . something. So far (and keep in mind this book was published in 2014), there is no something. And this is probably the main reason I’m posting this review first as opposed some of the other books I’ve read recently. When I finished Certified Headless, I really, really, wanted to put Book One in the subtitle. I thought more people would be inclined to give it a try if they thought it was part of a series. People love reading a series. Me too. If a book’s good, I don’t want it to end. But since it has to, what better way to keep the magic going than to read the next book in line? It’s like binge watching Netflix. The only thing is, if there isn’t a Book Two yet, it feels disingenuous.
Now anyone who’s read Contractor knows Andrew Ball planned to write a sequel the whole time. There’s an excerpt of the sequel at the end of the book. And I get that sequels take time and don’t write themselves. Also, the guy’s got a life doing something other than writing. I get it. I do. I intend to write a sequel too, but since I didn’t have a finished first draft of a sequel, I didn’t feel right about putting the words “Book One” in the subtitle when I published CH.
Also, I get mad when I read a book that says it’s part of a series, and when I go looking for the next one, it doesn’t exist.
I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Plus, if I publish a sequel, I can always go back and add a subtitle to CH. Then, for people who bought the original, it’ll be like they have a first edition Harry Potter without the “Year 1” on the top of the spine. Only, you know, worth significantly less on eBay.
Which brings me to the last reason I had for posting this review first:
Reason #3 – On Andrew Ball’s Facebook page, he posted last month that he just finished the first draft of the sequel, Prisoner.
Looking forward to it.
(Unless it takes four years to edit and publish. Then it’s dead to me.)