The Protectors by Trey Dowell
Published by Simon451, a division of Simon and Schuster, October 7, 2014. E-book of 240 pages for $4.99.
NOTE: I read an advanced print edition of this book, so anything may have changed before final publication.
The cover: Resembling leading character Knockout’s chest piece, a torn and tattered, sewn letter P in a diamond graces the cover of this novel, with the title and author’s name in simple bold font below it. It’s purposely beaten up to show how time has passed since Knockout last wore his uniform, and hides the power he has. There was no credit I could find for the designer of this image. Overall grade: A-
The premise: From the back cover, “Don’t call him superhero…Heroes change the world. Scott McAlister? On a good day, he manages to change out of sweatpants. It wasn’t always like this. Scott used to be leader of the Protectors, the world’s one and only squad of superheroes. It was a decent gig, but far from the shiny force for good the UN advertised. He could abide the publicity stunts, the lies, the ham-fisted government handlers–but when one of the Protectors dies under his command, it’s too much. Wracked with guilt, Scott steps down and into an early retirements. Now, five years later, a desperate C.I.A. chief shows up on Scott’s doorstep with a polite request and a cadre of shock troops to ensure Scott accepts. His ex-teammate and ex-lover, Lyla Ravzi, has gone rogue. The former Protector has the ability to control minds, and she’s no longer interested in “protecting.” She wants world domination. Scott’s mission is simple: find Lyla and stop her. The messy little details are up to him. It’s the last thing Scott needs after five years spent trying to forget the Protectors and to get over Lyla, but the alternative is worse. As he closes in on his target, Scott is forced to confront his past and face a chilling reality: Can he save the world and the woman he once loved? Or will he have to choose?” There isn’t too much sounding too original in this summary: Retired hero given an ultimatum to come out of retirement and stop former ally, who just so happened to be former lover. If Dowell can breathe some new life into this super hero standard this should be fun. Overall grade: B
The characters: The story is told from Scott McAlister’s point of view. He’s done with the hero business because of what went down during the Protectors’ last mission, and he’s got a good reason to be done. He’s snarky, but not to the point of being obnoxious, though when trying to mend fences with former allies he does put his foot in his mouth. He’s not infallible, far from it, but he has the need to overplan everything so that another mistake isn’t made. I won’t say what his power is, but it’s stunning portrayed in this book. Initially I thought that this would be a completely weak power, but much like John Byrne’s handling of Sue Storm, Dowell makes it a power to be envied. I found myself rooting for Scott throughout and when things went wrong, as they’re prone to for heroes, I was ducking every bullet headed his way. Lyla Ravzi also has a unique power that’s a bit different from what the premise on the back cover suggests. She’s from Iran, and left that country when she was a teen. She has no love of the government and would do anything to free her people. She’s got a past with Scott that he’s always questioning because he’s unsure if she used her powers to seduce him. Dowell nicely has the reader feeling the same and milks that nagging question until finally revealing what actually happened. Scott and Lyla make an outstanding team when in action, because their abilities don’t seem to go together, but they most certainly do. The antagonists are two fold: the C.I.A. and the Iranian government. The agent that outlines where Scott stands is Agent Tucker, a slim, smug son-of-a-gun who always seems one step ahead of Scott. Whether this man is one step ahead of Scott or just lucky is always in readers’ minds, but he’s the one character readers crave to see punched in the face. The Iranian government becomes an issue about halfway through the book, but for obvious reasons and others I won’t spoil. As a rampant reader of comics for over three decades, I was extremely impressed with the originality Dowell brought to each character. Overall grade: A+
The settings: This was completely unexpected and unbelievably enjoyable. I had no idea where this book was going. I thought it would be set wholly in the United States. The book opens at Scott’s mountain home, but then quickly goes to Germany. The descriptions of this location are excellent, and things only get better when the book moves elsewhere in Europe. These locations would make a James Bond writer envious. There’s even a quick glimpse of North Korea! I was delighted to see how current this world was, with the woes in Syria brought up and the uprising in Egypt also mentioned. Each location was a hot spot for trouble and intrigue and was a delight to visit. If Dowell hasn’t been to these places and is writing from research only, he’s done an exceptional job. Overall grade: A+
The action: There has to be a slow build in a super hero novel or film. Every bit of action increases with each conflict, and that’s what happens here. I thought it would build, and it does, but I didn’t expect it to go the way it does. What starts on hero on hero action soon involves secret agents from other countries and technology that doesn’t seem to far in the immediate future. Super powers are employed, but not in the usual way. This made my enjoyment of the book increase and had me guessing at how Scott and his companions would get out of each situation. Very impressive stuff. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: An attempt is made at a coup d’état by a group, but not in the way one would expect. The ending is completely in line with this universe and what the characters are capable of, though not what I wanted. It was a bit disappointing. It’s entirely logical, I just wanted it to be a bit more powerful that what was given. However, there is an epilogue with a teaser of a sequel, which one would hope for in an excellent super hero tale, and should get. Hopefully Dowell gets that opportunity. Overall grade: B
The final line: Highly originally and enjoyable reading. The super hero genre gets a shake up in this book and it’s worth discovering. Dowell has written an excellent debut novel and I look forward to reading more of his work. Overall grade: A
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.