I mentioned Michael Carroll’s Super Human trilogy in my post about superhero fiction, and since then I’ve also read the earlier Quantum Prophecy trilogy. The Super Human books are prequels but were published later — but I happened to start with them, which makes for an interesting perspective on things. Having all six books under my belt, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the stories; be warned, though, that this may involve some spoilers.
(Note: The Quantum Prophecy trilogy was first published in the UK as The New Heroes with different subtitles: The Quantum Prophecy, Sakkara, and Absolute Power.)
The Quantum Prophecy trilogy is set in a time mostly about a decade after Mystery Day, the day a huge battle took place between many of the world’s superheroes and a supervillain named Ragnarok. After Ragnarok’s battle tank was destroyed in an enormous explosion, nearly all of the superhumans vanished. A few remained, but they had lost their powers, and nobody had an explanation for what happened at the battle or where they all went.
Ten years later, though, a few teenagers are discovering that they have powers, and things quickly get interesting.
Here’s a brief rundown of the first trilogy:
The first book, The Awakening, gives a brief prologue about the battle with Ragnarok, and then jumps to the “present,” in which a couple of British kids, Colin and Danny, start to realize they have super abilities. Almost immediately, they’re swept up into a larger chain of events. One of those ever-present shadowy organizations (you know, the ones that have unlimited resources and incredible amounts of information yet nobody knows it exists) captures the kids and whisks them away to America. Colin manages to get away from his captors, but then he’s in Florida — a twelve-year-old on his own in a foreign country, with no contacts and no money. The story jumps back and forth between Colin and Danny, as Colin tries to track down the kidnappers and Danny learns more about what they have in store.
At the heart of the trilogy is the so-called “Quantum Prophecy,” a series of visions that the super-fast Quantum had back before Mystery Day about a coming war. The organization is trying to prevent that war, but in doing so they’ve condemned these superhuman kids before they’ve actually done anything.
Book Two, The Gathering, introduces a new wrinkle: the Trutopians. They’re a collection of communities around the world that are based on “truth” and “utopia,” welcoming anyone who wants to join but with very strict rules about crime and lawlessness. They’re working hard to recruit these teenage superheroes while also working to discredit the organization that now shelters them. Meanwhile, Danny and Colin (and a few new kids) find themselves in a hidden fortress (in Kansas, of all places) to be given training by the military and some former superhumans. But throughout this, they still don’t know who to trust, and the prophecy still looms over everyone. At the end of the book, Colin is forced to make a very tough decision, and parts ways with the other New Heroes.
The final book, The Reckoning, ramps everything up a notch. We’d already found out more about the Trutopians and their leader in the second book, but Book Three is when their plans start to kick into gear. Things get particularly heated when Colin faces off against the rest of the New Heroes, and a war begins. I won’t say much more about this one, but the superhumans have their abilities pushed to their limits, and even the “happy” ending leaves some more room for future crises.
The Super Human trilogy is technically a prequel to Quantum Prophecy, but there is a lot of overlap. Most of it, for instance, happens prior to the big Mystery Day battle — but as with the original trilogy there is a lot of jumping back and forth time-wise. When the story begins, some of the adult superhumans — Titan, Paragon, Quantum, Max Dalton — have already been around for a while, and the story focuses again on a group of teenagers who are starting to develop their own powers. This time, though, the kids don’t know each other yet, and they’ve grown up in a world full of superhumans.
Abby has super strength but her powers are specifically tied to metal; Thunder can manipulate sound waves; Roz has telekinesis. And then there’s Lance: he doesn’t actually have any powers, but he has a big ego and a mouth to go with it, and he somehow winds up tagging along. The first book, Super Human, introduces Krodin, an ancient superhuman warrior who is being brought into the present by a cult that worships him. The adults of the world (including the superheroes) have been infected with a debilitating flu, so it’s up to the teenagers to take him on. One of the most fascinating characters is Max Dalton, Roz’s older brother, who has telepathy and the ability to manipulate thoughts — he’s a good guy, but he’s obviously working for his own benefit as well.
In The Ascension, the teens find themselves zapped into what appears to be a parallel world: they still have their memories of battling Krodin, but the world around them has changed, and there’s a Chancellor who rules the US under martial law — and Max appears to be on his side. The kids are outnumbered and outgunned, not to mention completely lost in this strange world. But there is somebody who has been battling the Chancellor, a mysterious man calling himself Daedalus. The kids are placing their hope that they can find him and convince him to join them in their fight.
Stronger, the last to be published (in June this year), is actually a bit different from the others, and probably my favorite. For one, it’s the only one written from a first-person perspective. All of the others are in third person, allowing the story to follow a variety of characters, sometimes focusing on one at a time. But they do tend to be ensemble pieces, more about the team than any particular individual. In Stronger, it’s all about one person: Brawn. He shows up in the other books, but in most of those he’s not much more than the Hulk — big, strong, nearly bulletproof — although with better verbal skills. Here, though, we get to see the story from his perspective, and it’s fascinating.
We do get Brawn’s origin story (though that’s a very small portion of the book) and we also see some of the events from Super Human and Quantum Prophecy from his perspective. The book alternates between events early in Brawn’s life, when he first became a big blue monster, and much later. He no longer has his full powers, though he’s still huge and strong — but now he’s working in a prison camp, digging platinum ore from a mine whose existence is a secret. But although he could probably break himself out, he doesn’t. He feels responsible for the other prisoners, who look to him for leadership; also, Hazlegrove, the corrupt manager of the mine, punishes Brawn by taking it out on the other prisoners, since Brawn is still hard to hurt.
What you end up with is a story about a man with enormous power but is unable to wield it. The contrast between his younger self and older self are striking, and Carroll weaves a compelling tale between the two. Because of the first-person perspective, Stronger also ends up being more deeply personal: you know much more about his motivations and inner thoughts, but you only know what Brawn knows, rather than what’s going on in the rest of the world. Other characters from the Super Human series make appearances throughout the book, but this time they’re the minor characters, playing out their roles in the periphery. Stronger is the most mature of the six books, dealing with some heavy subject matter even in the context of superheroes and supervillains, and the way that Carroll humanizes Brawn is well worth reading.
Of the two trilogies, I think I prefer the newer ones to the originals; it feels like Carroll’s writing has improved over the years and the characters are a little more interesting in the second set. I also love that his characters are diverse: there are blacks and Hispanics, poor kids and rich kids. Sure, you still get a lot of the same types of powers: super-speed, strength, flight — and there seem to be too many that just have the Superman combo of “a little of everything.” And Paragon is sort of the Batman analogue: he has no powers but uses some homemade armor and weapons. But you do also get some other fascinating ones like Dioxin, the guy who oozes acid, or Brawn himself.
And the first trilogy is no slouch, really. After finishing the Super Human set, I read through all three Quantum Prophecy books in less than a week. I would say the two sets could be read in either order, as long as you keep the books within each trilogy in order. If you like superhero fiction, put these on your list. I will note that there’s some PG-13 language and a good deal of violence, so they’re not for younger kids, but teens and up may really get into them as well.
I know Carroll is also currently at work on at least two more books set in this world. There’s also a collection of short stories called The New Heroes: Superhuman, but apparently it wasn’t published in the US.
Wired: A bunch of teenage superheroes come to terms with their developing powers — and others who have strong opinions on how they should be used.
Tired: Seems you can’t throw a boulder without hitting yet another well-funded, shadowy organization with sinister motives.
Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of these books.