Happy New Year, Readers! Here’s hoping your holiday season saw you enjoying some quality time with a good book indoors and that all your literary wish-list items were checked off.
This year I’m kicking it off with Origin: Children of the Spear Book One! This delightfully brooding Superhero novella comes to us from the mind of Rhett Gervais, and is the first story in an ongoing series. The fifth book of this series is due out this month, actually. If you read this review and think this story would be worth checking out, you have time to get caught up before the new one releases. (Maybe. Hopefully. Depending on your reading speed, of course.)
When it comes to my Superheroes, I tend to like them pure with a big fat dollop of Golden Age cheese. Give me a dude or lady with the powers of a God who intends only to help people and I’m there. Superman, All Might, Power Girl, Spider-Man, Squirrel Girl (She beat Thanos once, don’t try and tell me she isn’t Very Super.) and Captain America are a couple of my favorites, just to give you an idea. However. I’m definitely not averse to reading and watching stuff on the darker side of the spectrum. Upon seeing an ad for this book series, I put a pin in it because it sounded very interesting to me.
So, what kind of story is this? Read on to find out.
- Author: Rhett Gervais
Price: Kindle – $2.99 (Kindle Unlimited allows you to read for free.)
Length: 155 pages
Number of books in the series: Four at the time of writing with book five available for pre-order.
We’re dropped right into the middle of the action as our hero, Bobby, does his best to avoid being destroyed by some other super powered beings. He’s in a church, a place he knows well, and we come to understand that not only is he doing his damnedest not to get killed by these folks, but he actually already knows them. One of them especially he knows very, very well.
We learn through a series of flashbacks that Bobby was a kid on the streets before being taken in by the Church. Working for board and food, Bobby’s life there is pretty hellish. Beaten regularly by the head Priest, Bobby prays for some kind of intervention; a sign to show him that not all of this is in vain.
That sign comes to him one day during one of the worst beatings he’d ever experienced in the form of Elizabeth. Not only is she the sign he hoped for, she’s his hero, rescuing him from abuse.
They become close. Very close. So what in the world would be the cause of them beating the everlovin’ stuffin’ out of one another right now?
He fights Elizabeth who can control lighting, someone who can become stone, someone who can phase in and out of reality as a being of light. He knows all their tricks and powers, but is it enough to give him victory? They know him, too, after all. During this battle, we get to see some of Bobby’s power too. Not only is he super durable, super strong and agile, but he has another power altogether. A power to drain the life of those around him.
Doesn’t that sound kind of villainous, you may ask?
It sure does.
But of course, Bobby had no say in the powers that he got. Much like pretty much everything else in his life, that was just the hand he was dealt by circumstance and he has to make do the best he can with what he has. Say what you want about Bobby, but his ability to do just that has to be admired. Still, how far will he go and what will he do to accomplish his aims?
And to that end, will we ever find out why Bobby is fighting his former friends and colleagues? Will we get to uncover the secrets of how these folks became super humans to begin with? And what happens to the rest of the world when these titans tear through it, hellbent on their own agendas? You’re going to have to read it to find out.
I really enjoyed this story. I’ll be honest, I’m not someone who generally enjoys flashback sequences mixed in with current events. I tend to prefer stories where things are laid out chronologically and we follow the story that way. Having said that, the flashbacks in this story are done well and are always pertinent to the things that are happening currently and so I didn’t find them to be out of place. They were done very well and I think people who want to incorporate this mechanic into their work could do much worse than learn how from Mr. Gervais. There’s a genuine feeling of uncovering motivations and formative events, like peeling back layers of history that make the discovery of all this contextual stuff organic and enjoyable as opposed to cumbersome.
The tone is, to use a well-worn phrase, dark and gritty. We get one character who’s a generally happy sort of guy and I liked him a lot. However, he wasn’t involved in the formation of these super powered people and his lack of involvement is clearly why he doesn’t seem quite so dour as Bobby and the rest. He’s probably the most archetypal hero we see in this story and he pays for it. The Church plays a heavy role in this story and I’d be remiss in pointing out that it’s hardly a force for good here. Religious themes run pretty heavily through the bedrock of what this book has to say; the character’s relationships with the church are problematic and complex and interesting.
The key question here, is did this book leave me wanting more stories from this author and these characters? The answer to that question is Yeah! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these in the new year.
A word with the Author:
Jim Newman: I really admire your writing style; engaging and expressive at a quick pace. Where did you learn to write?
- Rhett Gervais: Thanks so much Jim. Many writers, myself included, suffer from impostor syndrome, that feeling that you’re a fraud, and that your writing is crap, so it’s always nice when someone likes your work.
I’ve been writing since high school and it’s mostly been self taught. I started off by copying my favorite authors at the time like Alan Moore, David Eddings, Lois McMaster Bujold. Most of my early stuff was terrible, but it helped me find my own voice. The great thing about writing is that there are tremendous resources available on line and I’ve used a lot of them to learn as much as I could. I think I still have a lot to learn, but when I look at what I wrote a few years ago compared to now, I can see the growth and I’m really proud of that.
Jim: What drew you to creating superhero stories?
- Rhett: I’ve loved the superhero mythos since I was a kid, and some of my earliest memories are of watching reruns of the original Spider-man cartoon series (Ya I’m that old). And early live action shows like Hulk with Lou Ferrigno. Once I learned to read I would literally spend all of my allowance at the comic book store every week, and for a long time when I was growing up I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I couldn’t draw, no matter how much I practiced, so writing came as a natural evolution of wanting to work in the comic book industry.
Jim: The superhero novel seems to be a genre that’s gaining ground (Especially in the Indie marketplace.) where before it was a genre almost exclusively dominated by more visual media. What do you think has changed to drive demand for novels featuring superheroes?
- Rhett: Comic books have always told great stories, and they have evolved a lot over the last few decades and their readers have evolved with them. Just take a look at stories like Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, or Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come miniseries, and you see that comic’s can tell powerful dramatic stories that stand the test of time. The stories have grown deeper, more meaningful over time, and I think that the people who grew up reading these types of stories have a hunger for more than just two dimensional characters, and that translates to wanting more books and novels.
Jim: The world Bobby inhabits is pretty grim! What were your goals with the design of this universe?
- Rhett: My goal was to shine a light on the real world horrors that lots of people, kids in particular, are living through in today’s world. One of my editors told me that the situations that Bobby lives in are too harsh, and it’s a comment that I hear often about my work, but you only have to look at places like skid row in Los Angeles, or all the people living in their cars in San Francisco and across the rest of the country, to see that the reality is much worse than anything I’ve put in a story. The other thing is, I wanted to tell realistic stories of what would really happen if people got super powers. I don’t think most people would put on spandex and fight crime. I think most people if you give them power, would be selfish at best, and turn to villainy at worst.
Jim: The Church especially plays a challenging part in his journey, which is an innovative choice for a superhero book. What was the driving influence behind their role?
- Rhett: The church is one of the most powerful organizations in the world, with vast resources that can be used for tremendous good, or terrifying evil, so it was a natural choice for me as I was raised in the church, in fact I was an altar boy until I was twelve. Now I know a lot of people that think religion is fading into the distant past, but I have to tell you, I don’t think the church is going away anytime soon. The church was for centuries, the dominant force in day to day lives of millions of people, not to mention a driving force on the political landscape, we’d be crazy to think they would just fade away because their popularity is diminishing in portions of the western world. One distinction I would like to make thought, is that I don’t have anything against the church, and at the end of the day this is just a story and not some dig against religion.
Jim: Writers are usually some of the most avid readers; what superhero books are your favorites? And do you have any recommendations?
- Rhett: One of the reasons I started writing superhero books was because I found that there was not a lot out there, in fact if you go to the superhero page category on Amazon, it’s been co-opted by tons of urban fantasy. I tend to read authors who write fantasy but have superhero elements. Shayne Silvers, and Michael Anderle are pretty good. And Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series was awesome too.
Jim: What other heroic media do you enjoy?
- Rhett: Well, I love both the MCU and the DCEU, and I went nuts when they announced crisis on infinite earths for the arrowverse. Watching Bradon Routh play superman again brought a huge smile to my face, especially seeing that he was playing Kingdom Come Superman, which is my favorite comic series of all time. Superheroes have definitely gone manestream and I think we are living in a golden age for comic books.
Jim: Obviously this genre of storytelling lends itself to comics, movies, merchandising. Is any of that on the horizon for Children of the Spear?
- Rhett: I have a few friends who work in multimedia, tube sites, movie and TV production, Montreal, where I live is a hub for lots of that. They have told me that the series would be a good fit for a streaming service, but they would need a lot more content, so more books seems to be the way to go. As far as merchandising goes, my cover artist has done an amazing job, and I could easily put some of my book covers on a t-shirt, but that process is going to be later on down the road near the end of next year.
Jim: If I’m not mistaken, you have a new entry due out this month. Can you give our readers a little info on the new book?
- Rhett: Sure, Children of the spear Book five, Omega, is due out later this month. The book picks up a few months after book four, with all of the main characters struggling to deal with the fallout of the last crisis and working hard to put their lives back together. Everyone is trying to make a fresh start when the country is swept with a strange airborne illness that converts the human tissue into an unknown metallic substance that can’t be treated. The heroes race to find the source of the plague, while avoiding getting infected themselves. The search leads them to some pretty dark places, with tones of twists and turns along the way, and a few characters from the past show up. I had a ton of fun writing it, and I hope folks will have fun reading it.
Jim: And do you have any other up-and-coming projects in the works that you’d like to talk about?
- Rhett: The children of the spear series is set to run for seven books, with book five coming this month, and the last two in the fall. I am also working on another series that will start later this year. A historical fantasy series set during the reign of emperor Commodus. I have always been a big fan of Roman history. Gladiator is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve devoured every season of Spartacus and the story takes elements from both. In the spring I will be sending out an introductory short story, as well as a few chapters here and there for those folks who are on my mailing list for free.
Jim: What advice would you like to give any aspiring writers out there?
- Rhett: There are a couple of things I would recommend for anyone who wants to write. The first thing you have to do, and I know everyone says this, but read a lot. Reading will teach you more than any course. If you pay attention you’ll quickly learn what’s good and what’s bad. Reading will show you the emotional beats of a story, because you’ll experience them yourself while reading. Reading will teach you how to create captivating characters and settings because they are things you’ll find intriguing. Second, don’t wait to be inspired. Adam Croft says it best, “bum in chair and hands on keyboard”. Set a word goal and write every day, even if you don’t think it’s any good. Some of my best ideas have come from stuff I thought was terrible when I first wrote it. Lastly there are tons of resources out there to improve your craft, use them. Writing forums, blogs, youtubers, not to mention you can download university level courses for free directly from some universities.
Jim: And one last question, just for fun: Bobby gets two invites. One to join the Justice League, one to join the Avengers. Which way does he go?
- Rhett: I’m pretty sure they would never let Bobby anywhere near the Justice League! But given his personality he would definitely be an avenger, where I think he would be a good fit.
Jim: Thanks so much for your time.