I’ve been a big Marissa Meyer fan ever since The Lunar Chronicles (which I only read recently—I was late to the party on that). Although I didn’t enjoy Heartless quite as much as The Lunar Chronicles, I chalk that up mostly to the fact that it was the origin story of a villain (the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland), so it necessarily ended sad. I avoid sad when I can help it. But still, Heartless was also incredibly creative, and filled with compelling characters that were a great study for me as an author. Also, Marissa’s narrator, Rebecca Soler, is absolutely incredible—the range of voices she can do! Amazing! So, I’d been counting the weeks until the release of Renegades, sure that it would be another favorite.
Had I not set such high expectations for Marissa’s books, I probably would have enjoyed Renegades more. It does have her signature lighthearted narrative voice, and her characterization was good, but not as good as I’ve come to expect from her. The premise is essentially this: the world is a backdrop of an epic battle between prodigies, her word for people with superhuman abilities. (The story never explains how they got these abilities, but it doesn’t have to.) The “government” is made up of prodigies who call themselves the Renegades, while the Anarchists are so called because they want to take the Renegades down. Nova, the female protagonist, is a prodigy on the side of the Anarchists because her family was killed by a villain gang when she was six, and she believed that the Renegades would come to protect them, but they never did. Her uncle Ace, a member of the Anarchists, took her in and trained her to become the villain called Nightmare, since she can touch people and put them to sleep. But because of her childhood trauma, she never sleeps herself—so she infiltrates the Renegades as the prodigy who calls herself Insomnia.
Meanwhile, Renegade Adrian Everhart (it occurs to me that because I listened to it and didn’t read it, I’m not sure if I’m spelling his name right) is the adopted son of two of the chief Renegade council members, and so thrust into the spotlight. His prodigy name is Sketch, because he can draw things and bring them into three dimensions, or even to life if he’s drawing an animal. He realizes that he can also use this gift to “draw” himself new powers, and assumes another alias, the Sentinel. Even the council doesn’t know the Sentinel’s true identity or motivations. Early in the story, Nightmare and the Sentinel face off, and because of this and his conviction that Nightmare might know something about why his birth mother was killed, Adrian becomes obsessed with finding Nightmare.
When Nova joins the Renegades, there is, of course, an undeniable attraction between her and Adrian. She is torn between her goal of destroying the Renegades in loyalty to her adopted “family,” and her growing attachment to the Renegades she actually meets, as she discovers they aren’t as bad as she always believed. This is the primary conflict in the story, and while as a general setup, it worked (I kind of love the secret identity crisis), it felt forced to me. For one thing, I never fully understood the goal of the Anarchists. Why do they hate the Renegades so much? It seems like Nova’s hatred in particular is entirely based on the fact that the Renegades never showed up to save her family—but it’s not like they were the ones who actually killed her family. In fact, especially after she joins them and hears some of the tragedies that occurred in the lives of her fellow Renegade members at the hands of similar gangs, it seems like she ought to recognize that the Renegades aren’t omniscient and omnipotent, like she’d believed them to be at six. They might have special abilities, but they’re still just human. She was expecting too much of them. Then, as she gets to know her Renegade team (and falls for Adrian), she quite understandably begins to sympathize with them, and the Anarchists begin to think she’s not on their side anymore. So they stage some dreadfully destructive scenes, nearly killing many innocents and actually killing some of the Anarchists’ allies. If Nova is really such a good person, wouldn’t she break company with them after that, seeing their “true colors?” Yet at the end (no spoilers, I promise) she ends up reaffirming her commitment to the Anarchists because of a comment she overheard one of the Renegades make, even though only a few chapters earlier she had said something quite similar to Adrian herself. It felt forced, like the whole point was to maintain the conflict so that the book could turn into a series.
What I liked about the story was the tension between Adrian and Nova: their mutual attraction counter-balanced by their respective secret identities. But the world itself didn’t feel particularly original. The superhero space is a bit overdone anyway, so it’s hard to make it feel like anything other than yet another Marvel movie (with one exception: Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart series was incredibly creative.) I would have overlooked this if I felt like the characters’ behavior was more believable and better motivated, though. I’ll probably finish the series, but I won’t be counting down the days.
My rating: *** 1/2