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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Unwanted by Daniel L. Carter

Back in October, I interviewed Daniel L. Carter about his book, The Unwanted, the first in an urban fantasy/thriller trilogy. At that time I had not read it, but Daniel later sent me a free PDF copy as an apology for some chaos that ensued when he switched blog addresses. After interviewing him, then reading the book, I decided it would make a nice gift for certain family members, and purchased three print editions to send out before Christmas.

Clever marketing tactic, Daniel!

Anyway, I've intended to review The Unwanted here for a while, but just had too much on my plate. I may never completely catch up on everything I need to do, but I am starting to chip away at the pile.

The great deconstructive revolution in superhero comics began (IMO) with Alan Moore's Watchmen series and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-1980s. Its influence has affected every medium featuring superheroes to this day. In comics, perhaps the aftershocks can be felt strongest in Astro City. On television, the recent Heroes series followed in Moore's footsteps (or more accurately, perhaps, it took the superhero to the logical destination on the route Moore initiated). Daniel weighs in with his own deconstructive depiction, though in prose form and (thankfully, for me) from a markedly different ideological perspective.

Whereas Moore's story concept grew out of the question: "How would the world be different from what we know if someone like Captain Atom ("Dr. Manhattan") really existed?" Daniel may very well have started with a question like, "What would it have been like for Ma and Pa Kent to raise a child like Clark/Superman?" Or Xavier raising the X-Men. You get the idea.

FBI agent Nick Catlin is on the tail of some interstate arsonists with a penchant for black market hospital equipment. But every time he gets close to the perps, they are tipped off, a secret laboratory goes up in smoke, and bodies of five infants (always five) are found dead at the scene.

This time, though, nurse Janet Renard, a woman with a conscience, was hired by the bad guys to work at the lab. Rather than let them die, she and a friend spirit the babies away before the explosion. Rightly fearing the resources available to her erstwhile boss, she disappears off the grid, sneaking from Chicago to Oklahoma where she seeks refuge on the ranch of her estranged Uncle Leigh.

From here, the story really becomes about these children, who it turns out were genetic experiments. They begin to demonstrate superhuman/supernatural abilities at an early stage, as well as rapid aging.They're a youthful superteam-in-waiting, kind of like the X-Men, though there are no masks, capes, costumes or grandiose platitudes about "fighting crime." There's a huge, strong one, a fast one, an empath/intuitive one, a technological savant, and a berserker. The latter, Marcus, becomes the heavy-hitter in the narrative after Nick Catlin disappears through the second act. His abilities are not precisely explained, but he strikes me as a Wolverine-type character whose superhuman amp-ups work much like the TV version of the Hulk (Bixby/Ferigno) did.

The action is crisp during the first chapter. Then the novel, necessarily, shifts emphasis to character development. All these characters are human, so there's some drama and conflict you'd expect to find with real people in real life...compounded by the challenges of raising five superbeings on the down-low. Saving your property from the bank and tax man is a tall enough order without the added stress of an evil supervillain scouring the earth to find and kill you. (But am I being redundant here? Nevermind.)

The Unwanted: Book One does work toward a climax, but one which leaves plenty hanging for the next book in the trilogy. I can't be specific on chapter and verse because I'm going on a reader's subjective sensibilities here (my own, in case you were wondering), but the ending is the weakest element IMO. Daniel was careful to let his Darth Vader get away, but I didn't feel the closure of the Death Star being destroyed, either. This is my biggest gripe and, like I said, it's so subjective I can't argue it with tangible bullet points.

In summary, Daniel has written an entertaining, thought-provoking urban fantasy here, which I expect to get even more interesting, and have plenty more action, in the next two novels now that the "origin story" has been established.

Book 1 The Unwanted is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, Parable or you can simply purchase it directly from Daniel's official website via PayPal.

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