Sovereign by April Daniels

sovereignSovereign is the second book in April Daniels’ Nemesis series. I enjoyed, but did not love, the first book, and hadn’t planned to pick up the second, but after reading some great reviews, I decided to give it a try.

While there were elements of this book that I loved, it dragged, and despite many high-stakes superhero battles in space, I never really felt deeply invested in the story.

Sovereign picks up shortly after the end of Dreadnought. In the first book, Danny, a trans teenage girl, suddenly receives the mantle of Dreadnought, one of the most powerful superheroes ever. When she becomes Dreadnought, she not only gains superpowers, but a body that makes it finally clear to the world that she’s always been a girl. It turns out life as a trans superhero is not all fun and games, though, and Danny faces a lot of transmisogyny from both within and outside of the superhero community. In addition to all the stresses of her new life, there’s the fact that her family is completely unsupportive of who she is, and her father is emotionally abusive. So there’s a lot going on in this book; it’s definitely not a breezy read.

In Sovereign, Danny is more firmly settled in the superhero world. She faced down some seriously evil villains in the first book, and she’s finally got some good people in her corner. She still faces transmisogyny, although there’s actually a bit less of it, and in many ways this book felt lighter than the first one.

I love Danny as a character, and her fierceness and unabashed love of being a superhuman really shines in this book. There’s a lot of action and adventure and fighting and plot, but the parts that most resonated with me were the character-driven bits. The sweet gay love story was a joy to read. I also really loved Danny’s evolving relationship with her superhero mentor. All the secondary characters in this book were great, in fact. It was a pleasure to see Danny as part of a team that respected and cared for her.

The whole book, however, was slow. I can’t pinpoint exactly why. There were a lot of battles, and sometimes they went on for too long, the descriptions detailed to the point that I lost interest. It felt like either too much was happening or not enough was happening. The tension also felt off–despite many life-or-death situations, this one wasn’t a page turner for me. When everything came to a head it felt rushed, and then the conclusion felt a bit too easy.

I did love the way Daniels used the superhero trope to explore a lot of what often doesn’t get talked about in these kinds of stories: violence, anger, aggression. Danny struggles with who she is and who she wants to be, with how to use her anger and how to contain it. She’s constantly walking a line between what’s right and what she wants, what she truly believes and what might feel good in the moment. There’s a lot of real emotion behind her struggles, amplified by her superhero status. There’s a lot of violence in the book, but Daniels does not leave it unexamined: she forces Danny to wrestle with it.

Overall, I loved the characters and ideas in this novel, but the story dragged enough that I considered giving up on it more than once. I am notoriously picky about my superhero stories, though, so it’s possible this just isn’t my genre. Danny is a fantastic character, and the world needs more real, nuanced, kickass trans lesbian superheroes. I just wish the plot had been as kickass as Danny herself.

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