Author: Kelly Meding
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Superheroes
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication Date: October 25 2011
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Kelly Meding’s war-ravaged Los Angeles is ground zero for the ultimate Meta human showdown in this sexy, action-packed new series.
Fifteen years ago, Teresa “Trance” West was a skilled telepath and a proud member of the Ranger Corps. But ever since the Rangers were inexplicably rendered powerless at the climax of the devastating Meta War, she’s bounced from one dead-end job to another. Now her powers have reappeared just as mysteriously as they vanished— only they’re completely transformed and more potent than ever. And they’re threatening to destroy her.
Trance heads to Los Angeles to track down the surviving Rangers and discover who restored her powers—and why—but a phantom enemy is determined to kill them before they can reassemble. As they dodge his deadly attacks and come to terms with their new role as heroes, Trance and the rest of the team set out to annihilate the sinister madman . . . only to discover their own powers are his greatest weapons.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the MetaWars series
How did we get this book: We both bought our copies
Why did we read this book: Ana was browsing the shelves at Forbidden Planet and came across the book and after reading the blurb (superheroes!) she decided to buy it on a whim. Unbeknownst to her, Thea had already purchased the ebook and had it on the (virtual) TBR. With such serendipitous timing, we naturally had to do a joint review.
Ana: I approached Trance without any real expectations, having heard nothing about the book before and I picked it up on a whim based purely on the blurb and my desire to read a new UF series. I started reading it almost as soon as I bought the book and its opening chapter was super cool and gripping. Although the remainder of the book has its flaws and never exactly lives up the powerful promise of its opening act, Trance was a quick, fast-paced read and I enjoyed it greatly for what it is: popcorn reading of the highest order.
Thea: I’ve read one of Kelly Meding’s other UF novels Three Days to Dead and enjoyed it (though I’ve been shamefully lax on picking up the following books in that series). When I caught word of Trance, though, I instantly zeroed in on the fun cover and the ‘new mutants’ feel to the synopsis and instantly added it to my radar and wishlist. I went into Trance expecting a fun, diverting, action-packed superhero style Urban Fantasy read, and I’m happy to say that Kelly Meding delivers that experience in spades.
On The Plot:
Ana: Fifteen years ago, Teresa “Trance” West was a Meta human, a budding telepath, and a member of the Ranger Corps, the elite Superhero group. At least, until that terrible final day in the Meta War when she lost everything: her family, her friends and along with every Meta human in the world, her powers. Cue fifteen years later, Teresa is struggling to survive in a decaying world when all of a sudden, her powers reappear – only they are a completely different set of powers and much stronger than before. She decides to make her way to Los Angeles to try and meet other members of the Rangers – those who survived, that is – and eventually becomes their leader when a potent, dangerous enemy sets out to kill all the surviving Rangers.
Trance’s opening act is one of the most gripping openings I have read in a while. It shows us a world that has clearly gone to shit, with MetaHumans (heroes and villains) killing each other and caring nothing for the humans that get on their way and a bunch of untrained, very young kids as the sole remaining hope of the world as their parents and mentors die around them. That opening shows us Teresa as a kid and her friends trying hard to fight their enemies until eventually everybody loses their power. That is a very powerful scene and an extremely intriguing one at that, setting up the premise for the novel: WHY has everybody lost their powers? And more to the point, WHY have them all regained their powers 15 years later?
This means that Trance is at is best when it comes to its plot. Not only with regards to the aforementioned premise but also in terms of how these kids – now adults – have to find each other, regroup and relearn their powers in no time at all in order to save themselves from complete obliteration. Meanwhile, they also have to cope with the media, the fallout of their failures and their own internal politics. The ideas are all there and they are competently dealt with.
Having said that, the story might have been good and well executed but the book does have its flaws. Although I wouldn’t say that the overall plot was exactly predictable, the characters’ actions were. But more on that below.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree – Trance is an action movie of a book, packed with explosions, superpowers, and nonstop forward momentum. I agree with Ana in that the book begins with a literal bang, as a renegade group of superheroes-in-training (kids ranging from 10 to 16) make a desperate flight across the ruins of Central Park, trying to survive the “Banes” (the bad Metas) that have destroyed the adult Rangers (the good Metas). And then, all of a sudden, everything goes gray and powers for child and adult, good and bad, alike are suddenly gone.
Fast-forward fifteen years later, and we see that life hasn’t been super kind to Teresa (codename Trance). And this is where the story starts playing with the ever-so-familiar UF tropes. Teresa is down on her luck, recently jobless, and utterly broke (I feel bad for UF heroines – they are always stuck in dead-end jobs, with troubled pasts, no future prospects, and inevitably are incredibly broke). When her powers come back with a twist – she has somehow received her grandmother’s superpowers as opposed to her former hypnosis powers – Teresa not only becomes incredibly powerful (the most powerful Meta…ever), but she also becomes leader of the defunct Ranger Corps as the remaining team – that is, the handful of children that survived Central Park and the Meta War – reassembles. I loved this vision of a future devastated by the actions of Metas and humans alike. The exploration of the political/PR aspect of being a superhero and the scifi dystopian type feel of a world so ravaged by physical and socio-economic destruction are detailed brilliantly, making the setting believable.
In terms of actual plotting, the main conflict of the story focuses on an old Big Bad Bane named Specter. Just as the Ranger Metas received their powers back, so too did the Banes, and Specter is the worst of the worst. With the ability to possess anyone in a weakened enough mind state, fighting Specter is very much like fighting a ghost – as he takes over the bodies of Teresa’s friends, she and her fellow Corps members are forced to kill the ones they love. No one is safe from Specter’s reach, and the beleaguered team must do what they can to stop him before they are all dead.
I loved this central conflict and the creation of a bad guy that is truly, deeply bad and horrifically powerful. There’s really nothing that Teresa and her team can do to stop Specter as he toys with them, killing off the team one by one. And yet… this is my biggest annoyance with the story. For all that I loved the tension and the action and the drama, it seems so silly that a villain the caliber of Specter wouldn’t simply possess and kill everyone in one fell swoop. Even when we are given explanation and motive for Specter in the book’s climactic scene, it doesn’t quite fit.1
Beyond this nitpick (and a heavy reliance on genre tropes)2 Trance is a fantastic novel that accomplishes everything it sets out to do in a plausible and entertaining way.
On The Characters:
Ana: There was something about the writing of the characters that never really clicked for me. Their actions followed very predictable patterns of heroism, for example, and most of them read like very superficial stand-ins for the usual superhero group. This is not an egregious flaw per se but coupled with the way that the emotional developments of the story never seemed to have taken root and we have a problem. For example: people died and were killed left and right but there was never a real sense of grief; people were falling in love without any real spark (in fact, I count Gage, the hero and main romantic interest, as one of the most boring characters ever). And so on and so forth. It also didn’t really ring true the way that everybody seemed super comfortable with regaining their powers and using them after years – even though in all fairness some of then struggled and it’s not like they had any choice in the matter – but it seems so easy the way they all fell into the same roles as 15 years before.
It is not like the characters weren’t likable, or heroic or cool – they were and I quite enjoyed them – especially Trance. But there was some serious lack of oomph which is the only thing that prevents the read from being a truly awesome one.
Thea: I have to agree with Ana here, too. If the plot aspects of the novel and the writing were steeped with genre tropes, even more so are the characters. As I’ve said before, Teresa is your basic everyday UF heroine. She’s had a troubled past, she works dead end jobs and has trouble making ends meet, she has mega Trust Issues because of the aforementioned troubled past, and thus she’s brash, hot-tempered, but really is protecting a heart of gold that someone is bound to notice despite her prickly exterior. (She’s also naturally gorgeous, though she doesn’t really think about appearances.) Sound familiar?
Right. That said, Teresa isn’t a bad heroine – I actually found myself caring for her and rooting for her, and who doesn’t love the pigheaded badass heroine from time to time? Even though she’s familiar, Teresa is sympathetic and I think the only character in this book with whom readers can form a solid connection. As Ana says, the rest are kind of…well, bland. Everyone follows the motions and acts heroically, Teresa included, but there is little true evaluation of actions and their consequences. Our Metas automatically do the right thing, and even the most morally ambiguous characters (like one of the federal Agents, for example) are chagrined when they should be and ridiculously forthcoming about their past wrongs once discovered.
The thing that really detracted from connection with the main cast, however, lies with the artifice that characterizes all reactions. From how cavalier everyone reacted to getting their powers back (and how masterful they were with their powers, automatically), to the lack of spark between the new lovers, everything felt like it was following the right sequences and patters, but without emotional resonance or…well, as Ana says, oomf. When we learn Gage’s story and his reason for being alive, I couldn’t muster up enough effort to truly care because it all seems a bit like a dress pattern – this emotional plea comes at the right point in the story so that our heroine’s relationship with him is not suffering, and everything is kept nice and tidy and uncomplicated. When characters would die, they’d barely register on the emotional scale because these deaths felt throwaway or like plot devices to move the story along to the next checkpoint. I want more messiness! More tension! I want to believe that my heroes are grappling with soul searching questions and identity and trust crises. Unfortunately, I felt like the main characters here in Trance were merely going through the motions.3
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: The positive aspects of the plot makes Trance the kind of superhero story that I really enjoy to read, plus it is all very fast-paced and really fun. Despite ts flaws and lack of character oomphage, I really enjoyed this and can recommend it for fans of UF with superheroes. I will certainly be back for the sequel.
Thea: Word. I loved the worldbuilding and Kelly Meding’s visualization of this dystopic future society, just as I loved the thematic struggles that underly Trance‘s action-packed plot. While the characters definitely need some “oomphage” (Ana, I love this word!) and could use some differentiation from the many other UF hero casts out in the universe of fiction, I truly enjoyed this book and will absolutely be back for the sequel.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
The bronze man’s head was melting. It oozed fat splats of liquid metal and swirled down the front of his old-fashioned suit jacket to puddle at his feet. Some of it hit the bronze duck below him, adding layers of new metal that mutated it into a nightmarish goose. The molten metal cooled and hardened as it hit the sidewalk. Mayhem’s heat blasts were concentrated above the statue, and metal needs a constant heat source to stay liquid. I learned that in class.
Gage had told me the statue was of a once-famous man who wrote stories for kids. I don’t know for sure, but if Gage says so, it must be true. He’s in charge while the adults are fighting for all of our lives, and he kept us quiet and hidden. For a while.
Until Mayhem found our hiding place.
“We have to run for it,” Gage said.
I didn’t want to run. We’d been running for hours, from the southernmost point of Central Park to where we were now. I don’t know how many blocks, but a lot, and it was raining, too—light, chilly rain and heavy, splattering rain. Sometimes it stopped and just blew cold wind; then Ethan would use his Tempest powers to try to redirect it so we didn’t freeze.
Hours of it, and I was exhausted. We all were. Each time the Banes gained ground and pushed the last of the grown-up Rangers north, we kids ran ahead and took cover. We were there to fight if we had to, but the grown-ups didn’t want us to—not until absolutely necessary. At fifteen, Gage was the oldest; I’m the youngest at ten-almost-eleven. He says we’re the last line of defense for the city of New York.
We’re the last line of defense for the rest of the country.
And we’re just a bunch of kids.
Mayhem kept blasting.
Ethan stepped out from the shelter of the stone wall, all wiry and red-haired and cocky thirteen. He raised his hands to the sky. A blast of wind shot away from him and swirled toward Mayhem. She was a good hundred yards away, across a cement hole that had once been a lake or something, near a statue of a bronze girl on a mushroom. The statue was losing shape, turning into goo from her being so close to it.
Ethan’s air blast slammed Mayhem’s heat back at her. She was wearing street clothes, just jeans and a black shirt, and they were nothing like our special uniforms. No armor to protect Mayhem from her own powers or ours, so she flew backward with a piercing shriek. Her braided black hair flipped around like snakes, and she landed out of sight on the other side of the mushroom.
“Go!” Gage shouted.
Mellie ran first, as fast as she could across the cement ground, toward the nearest clutch of unburned trees. Renee went next, a streak of blue skin and honey-blond hair, with William behind her. He carried Janel, who was unconscious from power overload; William had superstrength so he could run and carry her at the same time, while I could barely run and carry myself.
I followed the big kids, including Marco, who was still in panther form, and fifteen of us streaked across the way, rounding the edge of the cement pit, seeking our next place to hide. Just like we’d done all day. My lungs were burning, aching with smoke and cold and overuse and unshed tears. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep. I was sick of being cold. I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. I didn’t want to have to think about tomorrow—if we had a tomorrow.
I was only ten. Almost eleven. I wasn’t ready to die.
None of us was.
Read the rest of the excerpt HERE.
Ana: 6- Good
Thea: 6 – Good
Reading next: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Buy the Book:
- To be fair, this is a problem I have with a lot of SF/UF, in which a supremely powerful entity is felled by the underdog solely because the supremely powerful entity had no desire to, ya know, finish the job. It’s a flavor of the ‘bad guy monologue’, except protracted across the length of an entire novel. ↩
- Namely, with regards to the heroine’s characterization, the insta-attraction between her and Gage, the fact that Teresa spends most of the novel in the med ward because she keeps injuring herself to protect everyone, and how incredibly over-powered she is, and so on, and so forth… ↩
- I kind of wish that Trance had been cross-bred with Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age – with its powerful, raw, sometimes intensely unlikable characters. Paired with the plotting and world-building strengths of Trance, this literary lovechild would be quite the stunner. ↩