There are certain books that I’m proud to love, and others that seem like just one step above reading a fashion magazine, or watching a soap opera, just because of the associations. Superheroes are never considered great literature–they’re more like mindless pop culture. Yet the only real difference between this book and many other contemporary YA books out there now is that it borrows a familiar character and story, rather than creating one that’s entirely new. In the case of Batman: Nightwalker, I feel like that was a distinct advantage. It gave Marie Lu less of a hurdle to overcome–I already knew Bruce Wayne, liked him, and rooted for him from the minute I heard his name. I knew who he was and what to expect from him, and immediately understood the subtext of allusions to his history.
Otherwise, the story is completely new, and not at all “campy” the way that some of the old Batman films were (even though there is a certain charm in this too). This is not exactly an origin story, but it hints at that. It follows Bruce Wayne just as he comes of age, inheriting Wayne Tech and his parents’ fortune when he turns eighteen. He’s not yet Batman, just a new billionaire with fancy tech toys and a passion for justice. He intervenes in a police chase because he has the horsepower in his car to catch the criminal and they don’t, landing himself in community service in Arkham Prison–where he meets Madeline, a girl his own age who is nevertheless considered to be the most dangerous and manipulative criminal in house. She’s supposedly one of the Nightwalkers, a group of Robin Hood-esque criminals whose goal is to steal from the rich and give to the poor–except that after they steal from the rich, they also brutally murder them. Madeline has been incarcerated for weeks and has not spoken a single word, until she sees Bruce. Then she immediately begins to open up… but is it because she and Bruce have a connection, as he begins to suppose (even though he tries to deny it, knowing this is a dangerous line of thinking)? Or is it because Bruce is on the Nightwalkers’ hit list?
The dynamic between Bruce and Madeline is stellar, and the story itself is incredibly tight–everything is there because it needs to be, and I don’t think there is a single superfluous scene. The pacing is perfect. Madeline’s character is immediately compelling, and Lu tells you just enough to hook you, and keep you guessing as to whose side Madeline is truly on until the very end. The only reason I knocked off half a star is because the big reveal at the end felt a little too convenient. I just didn’t totally buy it. But aside from that, this was a great read!
My rating: **** 1/2
Language: none that I can recall
Sexual content: none
Political agenda: a few minor allusions but nothing significant