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They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded
by James Alan Gardner
Tor, QPB, $17.99, 350 pages
Published: November 2018

Any year that sees a new James Alan Gardner book is a good year. Make that a GREAT year! Gardner is, in my opinion, one of the Grand Masters of SF, because every novel and story he’s written covers fresh, uncharted territory.  With innovative tech, action that boils along, characters that actually, you know, evolve over the course of the story, and a galactic scale that is tempered by human perspective and a sense of humor. His Spark Lords and League books have landed on my shelf of faves to reread and share, alongside series by Lois McMaster Bujold, Steven Brust, and Roger Zelazny. 

They Promised… is the second novel in the Spark series that follows the short story “The Mutants Men Don't See”, published by Asimov’s in 2016. In All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, we find out how four undergrads get transformed into superheroes and foil a dastardly plot to convert a sizable area of Ontario into a smoking crater. That story was narrated by Kim; now it is Jools’ turn to describe events as the next conflict between superheroes and supervillains unfolds. And this time, it’s hard to tell the difference, especially when a band of Supers who model themselves after Robin Hood and his Merry Men start interfering.

Besides the lives to save and property damage to minimize, Jools has demons of her own she’s wrestling with. There’s the alcohol addiction, the low self-esteem, the outrageous behaviors that alienate her closest friends and less-close family, and now there are these sudden insights into the motivations of others that make relationships … awkward. Being a super doesn't solve any of these problems — it created the last one — and with all the deals Jools makes with vampires, villains, anti-heroes and double agents, being a mission-oriented super may not be enough to balance the accounts. She may have to become something more.   ~~ Chris Wozney

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