I’m writing this book review on Father’s Day. I’ve just completed reading League of Somebodies by Samuel Sattin, and I must admit that the ending was tough. I think any fiction I read that involves fathers and their sons and time passing is typically tough on me. My own dad is getting up there in years, and I’m now a dad myself. I can’t speak for all sons, but I know that for me, I am my father’s son. And there is absolutely zero complaint there. I must give my dad a solid grade A in the Fatherhood column. But I recognize that not every son can do the same.
So, this is a bit strange. A novel about fathers, sons, and superpowers. And not a novel that’s heavy on the powers, either. Strip out the fantastical elements, and what you end up with is a story that’s two parts tragedy and one part redemption. League of Somebodies is almost a How-To manual for really REALLY messing up your kid… and a bit of hope that things can always be repaired.
Lenard Sikophsky is a 13-year-old who has just celebrated Bar Mitzvah, so why is he now standing in the middle of a railway bridge with his Scot father, Fearghas Murdoch Sikophsky, standing above him and yelling at him to run from an oncoming train? Believe it or not, this is nothing. Fearghas has it in his head that his son is destined for greatness because he’s a (secret) follower of the Manaton, an ancient book with some amazingly odd teachings about how the world really works and how real men should conduct themselves along with some interesting exclamations — “Manaticus!” “Manu!” Fearghas is doing his best to try and bring forth the hero from his son by placing him in situations that defy logic. To make matters worse (and to accelerate the process), Fearghas has been injecting Lenard with small doses of plutonium for years, affecting the boy’s growth in some unusual ways.
And now that Lenard has become a man, so to speak, more secrets and knowledge kept hidden in the Manaton are beginning to flow out even faster. Lenard may not understand it all, but Fearghas believes (correctly) that his son is in danger and must speed up the hero-making process. It’s all necessary because They is chasing him. That’s not a typo. Every hero needs a villain, and They is just the person for the job. Of course, Lenard has no idea who They is, or why They wants the Manaton. [Note to my editor: Yes, I’m using They as a singular. Leave it alone. They is dangerous, and They is not to be messed with. Gravitas!]
So, Fearghas kicks it into high gear with the craziness. Here’s a hint: it involves lions, hallucinogens, and lots of verbal abuse.
And it works.
Lenard is a hero, through and through, and manages a few minor hero actions that impress his new girlfriend (all arranged by Fearghas, of course, in a crazy sub-plot that would easily give any young daughter nightmares for weeks). Fearghas, however, doesn’t let up — his son is a hero, but now the second round of craziness and scheming begins. Fearghas’ manipulations begin to wear on his son (no surprise) and one last shocking action is enough to drive Lenard away.
That’s the first half of the book.
The second half focuses on Nemo, Lenard and Lily’s young boy. So here’s where readers will begin to wonder whether Lenard has managed to escape from his own upbringing and can truly change a family’s legacy. On a positive note, Lenard has avoided poisoning his own son with plutonium, but on the other, the Manaton still figures prominently in Nemo’s daily life. But Lenard (being not as bright as his wife or son) can’t be faulted for trying. With humorous twists on his father’s versions of tests, Lenard is determined to help Nemo become a hero.
As I said, League of Somebodies is first a story about fathers and sons. Yes, it’s funny. And yes, it’s demented. And yes, there are worthy feats and dangerous villains. But again, it’s two-thirds tragedy and one-third redemption. The language is harsh, the abuse (both physical and mental) is inexcusable, and the random glimpses into the pages of Manaton are beyond comprehension. But there’s also tucked into these pages a great little story about breaking from tradition and finally discovering the real joy of fatherhood. It’s a long, hard trip to the end of the story, but there’s a diamond waiting there that is worth the wait.
Note: I’d like to thank Samuel Sattin for providing a review copy of League of Somebodies.