Review – ‘Dreadnought’ by April Daniels

Title:  Dreadnought
Author: April Daniels
Genre:  Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT+
Date of Publication: 24th January, 2017
Page Count: 276 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

I feel so lucky to have had two 5-star reads in a row courtesy of Netgalley ARCs! I knew this was going to be good from the start – you know how some authors are just so wonderfully competent that their characters jump off the page from the first chapter fully-formed like old friends that you’re catching up with and the writing has such a great ease and flow to it that you can plunge through several chapters and not even realize that you’re half-way through? That was my experience with this book.

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I haven’t read a book with transgender characters before, let alone with a trans protagonist, and I’m thrilled that my first encounter was so positive. 🙂 That isn’t to say that Danny’s physical transition to appearing as a female is without hardship – one of the most difficult aspects of this story is the considerable heaping of transphobia that Danny is subjected to from loved ones and peers. What I mean is that the author put so much care and respect into crafting this character – there are a lot of stereotypes that would’ve been so easy to rely on and pitfalls to avoid, but (in my opinion as a cisgender woman) April Daniels pulled it off so well and I’m excited that we have such excellent trans representation in the sci-fi/fantasy genre!

However, to follow on from my earlier comment – it’s sometimes excruciating to read the verbal abuse that Danny suffers. If you’re sensitive to transphobic and homophobic language, I’d have to recommend against reading this or at least being very careful if you proceed because my god, does Danny get put through the wringer. 😦 From the synopsis, I knew to expect her father and best friend to be sources of prejudice, but I thought her superhero escapades would provide from relief from the ‘civilian’ issues. What I didn’t realize was that the superhero team, the Legion, is not as accepting as one might have hoped and causes her no end of angst and suffering as well. It did carry on a bit too far in Graywytch’s case, to the point of caricature, and I felt that one of the few weaknesses of this book was her OTT reaction to Danny and how far her persecution went.

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From another angle, while it wasn’t pleasant reading, the family dynamics were very well-written and unfortunately realistic. There were so many times I wanted to scream at Danny to just ditch her parents and forget about them, but I know it isn’t that easy when you’re in that situation, it’s hard to overcome years of history and psychological conditioning and the natural vulnerability we have to our parents and their opinions of us. If Danny had assumed the mantle of Dreadnought and immediately gained self-confidence, stood up for herself and kicked all naysayers to the curb, well, that would’ve been a really fun wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it wouldn’t have been true to the character. She had a much more difficult path to walk, but it was so rewarding to watch her gradually overcome her self-doubt and start to believe in herself and blossom into who she was always meant to be.

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Assisting in her journey were two fantastic female characters, Sarah (aka Calamity) and Doc Impossible. I love female friendships, so it made me wriggle with glee that Danny had two important relationships with other women! Sarah is the kind of friend we all want, supportive of Danny but also challenging her worldview when necessary. The two girls teaming up to track down the supervillain Utopia was a blast, I loved them bonding while ‘caping’ (ie. donning superhero costumes and running around doing good deeds) and conducting a smart age-appropriate investigation. I was relieved that they didn’t pull some ridiculously convoluted CSI routine to pursue Utopia, their tactics and strategies made sense for teenagers. And with all the problems Danny had to deal with, it was lovely to see her get to have fun with another girl her age, going shopping, trying on make-up, going out to dinner and other cute interactions. ❤

Doc Impossible, on the other hand, plays more of a mentor role. I enjoyed her character and how she developed throughout the story. What I really appreciated was that the author showed how even those who try to support and befriend trans people can make mistakes – it’s not just openly vindictive bigots who can be the source of pain, even well-meaning folks can cause harm through innocent mistakes that nonetheless have huge repercussions. For instance, Doc Impossible thinks nothing of disclosing Danny’s trans status to the rest of the Legion instead of honoring her right to privacy and keeping her medical records confidential – this leads to a great deal of tension and hostility that could’ve been avoided and Danny rightly calls her on outing her without permission.

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The rest of the supporting characters weren’t fleshed out to a significant degree – I do feel a chance was missed with the Legion, it would’ve been great to actually get to know more about these superheroes instead of the tidbits and info-dumps we get on them before the author summarily dispenses with them in order to focus on Danny. I know it’s her story, but for a book set in a world populated by superheroes, we didn’t get too much time with the main team!

However, my affection for Danny more than makes up for any minor flaws in this book. She is such an endearing and relatable character, I really felt her emotions and her struggles, and it was so uplifting reading about her successes. I am so happy to find that there’s a sequel planned for Danny and I can’t wait to read more!

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties approve this book!

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Disclaimer: I received a digital copy free from Diversion Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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7 thoughts on “Review – ‘Dreadnought’ by April Daniels

  1. This book seems SO INTERESTING! Books about superheroes and superpowers always interest me (a lot of things interest me 🙂 ), but when it sends an important message regarding self-actualization and acceptance, it is even better! It is like a complete package bases on its premise.

    Will definitely read it when possible!

    Thanks for the wonderful review 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • sorry for the late reply, gah, internet issues! I really appreciate your lovely comment ❤ I definitely recommend this one and hope you enjoy it as much as I did when you get around to it! superpowers are fun and all, but I loved this one for the character growth and how it reflected on society as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s fine, I know that feeling when there is the Internet issue going on 😦 .

        Yes! I do hope I will enjoy it. There can be very few superhero titles with a deep character development, so I am really excited to read this one if possible! XD

        Thank you for responding 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never read a book about a transgender either, and definitely not as a protagonist. So this might be a good way to start indeed!
    Two things you mentioned that I absolutely love are: the realistic story (even though it might be a bit heart-wrenching to read) and the female bonds. So those are already great pluses for me 🙂
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: ARC review – ‘Sovereign’ by April Daniels | dreamingofcats

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