Dreadnought, written by April Daniels, revolves around fifteen-year-old Danny Tozer in a city where being a superhero is a legitimate job possibility. Designated at birth as male, Danny knows this is a mistake. She wants nothing more than to shed the life she has and live her life as it was meant to be. Her wish, of course, is granted, and so begins her journey.
Note – part of this review was from my original review of the Kindle version. Additional notes have been added regarding the audiobook version.
I was a huge fan of this book. Ms Daniels has done an excellent job of world-building. Lots of history is laid in early with the passing of the mantle of Dreadnought to Danny. Superheros have been around for long enough for people to both love them (for saving them from supervillains) and loathe them (for causing the inevitable collateral damage when they have their super fights).
The book opens with Danny, still biologically male, secretly buying nail polish and hiding behind dumpsters to put it on. Through a twist of fate, she inherits the powers of Dreadnought (the foremost superhero in the world), Danny becomes everything she always wanted. The girl she was always meant to be.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand the emotional turmoils transgender kids go through, but I can’t help but think they’d give anything to transform as easily as Danny does in this novel. Her new body and superpowers are gifted to her by the passing of Dreadnought. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts but with superpowers. Danny becomes the newest Dreadnought to hold the title.
In establishing some of the history, Ms Daniels explains the origins of Dreadnought with…
“…the British had built a warship that revolutionized naval warfare. HMS Dreadnought was faster, stronger, and tougher than anything else afloat. Overnight, it made every other battleship in the world obsolete. That’s what the first man to wear the mantle did to metahumans.”
…thus the name was taken by the first “Dreadnought” who was unrivalled by the other superheroes (and villains) of the time.
The irony in all of this of course is that the mantle of Dreadnought gets passed onto someone the polar opposite of this. Someone so emotionally fragile from wanting to be something else, and from being emotionally abused by her father and from being bullied at school.
Even when physically toughened against any punishment evildoers can dish out, the emotional scars still run deep. So much so that Danny can’t find it in herself to stand up to her father even after becoming superhuman.
It doesn’t help that her father and even a couple of the super-friends from the Legion Pacifica (basically the local chapter of superhero union) are ignorant douchebags. The real, raw emotions Danny feels when her dad is yelling at her, and belittling her, is powerful stuff.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. There’s the fun of learning to control her new powers, most noticeably the ability to fly. Having only tried it out in her bedroom, she suddenly needs to work it out when representatives of the Legion Pacifica come knocking at her window.
Plus, of course, getting to experience the world as visibly female for the first time, which is something she’s wanted for a long time. There’s the bonding with her mother as they shop together for the first time for underwear and clothes to fit her new shape, but even her elation at this is tempered by needing to hide it from her father.
Doc Impossible (friendly mad scientist) of the Legion Pacifica befriends her and tries to let her know what the superhero life of a “whitecape” (the good guys) is really like. It’s not just all glamorous and sexy hero stuff, but it’s also hard on you and your loved ones. Like the day-to-day stuff “baselines” (non-supers) take for granted, like their privacy or something as simple as renting an apartment.
Early on she befriends a morally ambiguous vigilante (a “greycape“) called Calamity who helps Danny find her footing in the life of a superhero and helps her with the decision she’s struggling with: join the Legion Pacifica as a whitecape and become the next Dreadnought or live anonymously as a greycape by pretending to be less than she is.
Now… for the narration by Natasha Soudek. This lets the entire audiobook down. Her pacing seems almost artificially slow, to the point of exasperation. I needed to increase the playback to 1.5x just for it to sound normal. So many characters sounded the same, it was at times hard to work out who was talking.
Littered with mispronunciations and other baffling errors. I’m not talking “po-tay-to / po-tah-to”, I mean words like “turret” being pronounced like “Tourette” (like the syndrome). I made a note of “One to Eight hundred Hotlines”, which I worked out later meant “one-eight hundred” like the phone number, yet it was read as if it were a range.
I certainly want to move on to book two in the series at some point, but the narration of this one is almost a deal-breaker. This could benefit from a re-recording and proper proofing/editing, and it’d be a much better audiobook.