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Never A Hero by Vanessa Len

A review by Nalini Haynes

Trigger warning: torture and other forms of violence

Joan stalks Nick because she’s in love with him from a previous time in a different timeline that only she can remember. Strangers try to kidnap her, Nick is caught up, then they flee together. But Joan is a monster and a monster is never a hero.

Backstory

This very pretty novel arrived without warning. The cover appealed and the author is part of a minority so I selected it as my next read. I try not to learn much about a book before I begin reading so I didn’t realize this was a sequel.

At first I thought Never A Hero had a deep backstory that would unfold over the course of the book. However, Len continually referenced the previous book without making much progress so I looked for more information. This is book 2 in a trilogy, with way too much reference to book 1.

Rollercoaster

Joan acquires a group of friends who follow her into scrapes and escapades while looking for answers. Adults follow teenagers, plans change at a moment’s notice and, at times, I wonder how the bad guys missed the group of protagonists and failed to hear them planning only meters away. This kind of staging reminds me of Doctor Who‘s more pantomime episodes.

But Never A Hero is aimed at a Young Adult audience. So high school readers will devour it. Many will rave and there will be a fan base like Divergent’s.

Timeline variables

Because of the nature of the story, with time travel and parallel timelines, Never a Hero needs to reference the previous book to some extent. But NOT to this extent. Frustrated reader here.

Rules are not made to be broken

Experienced authors can create rules then break them to great effect. However, Len’s world building rules and breakage felt like cheating. Superpowers run in families and are stable except Joan had one family’s power then lost that power for it to be replaced by a different power. Joan is half Chinese, half white, her white mother gifting her the Hunt family and legacy. Until no, that’s not the case, she’s a step-child. (Why couldn’t her Chinese father have unknowingly bequeathed her a power? That could have worked.)

Then there’s “you can’t remember what happened in a different timeline after changes” until/unless you can.

No one is the villain of their own story. Look at Trump and Scott Morrison as classic examples. So why do Len’s “monsters” call themselves monsters? Someone asks that in this novel but there’s no satisfactory response.

The verdict

Doctor Who was a constant in my childhood, leading me to devour all the time travel and timeline stories like Charlotte Sometimes and Gibson’s The Agency.

Vanessa Len shows great promise as a young adult author capable of creative storytelling. However, she needs to read comprehensively, focusing on time travel and parallel timeline stories. She needs to read both the good and the bad, and learn the theory behind both. Those stories informing her writing will improve future novels, and I look forward to reading them.

If you’re a reader who can just immerse yourself in the story, accept the rollercoaster ride without dissecting the narrative, you will love Never A Hero. The publisher says this novel is for ages 13 and up.

Book details

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780063024694
ISBN10: 0063024691
Imprint: HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Released: 2023
Age: from 13
Category: speculative fiction, alternate history, time travel, racism, romance, thriller
Never a hero book cover: a girl poses with a dagger

Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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