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Shades of Gray
Jackie Kessler & Caitlin Kittredge
Spectra, 416 pages

Shades of Gray
Jackie Kessler
Jackie Kessler wanted to grow up to draw comic books. Not Archie comics -- superhero comic books. Around the age of 15, she realized it was a lot of fun putting words in the characters's mouths. She was the fantasy editor for Wild Child Publishing. Now she writes adult novels as well as young adult fiction under the byline Jackie Morse Kessler. She lives in upstate New York, along with her family and about 9,000 comics.

Jackie Kessler Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Jackie Kessler

Caitlin Kittredge
Caitlin Kittredge started writing novels at age 13. Her first was a Star Wars tie-in. She moved on to trying to be a screenwriter, a comic book writer and the author of copious amounts of fan-fiction, then she tried to write a novel again. It never saw the light of day but while struggling with it, she got the idea of writing a story about a werewolf who fought crime. She lives in Olympia, WA.

Caitlin Kittredge Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Caitlin Kittredge
SF Site Review: Black and White

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

''Iridium tugged at frostbite. "Come on. We've got to get back inside before they realize it's an all-you-can-smash Extrahuman buffet in there."'
Jackie Kessler & Caitlin Kittredge ride again, presenting the second in their Icarus Project series. All of the leading characters from Black and White are back for more, and are joined by a host of newcomers. This time around the story is split into three strands, one in the past and two in the present. The sequences set in the past deal with the original Squadron superheroes, their lives, loves and the reasons for their ultimate downfall. Tidbits of info pertaining to Corp-Co, and the origins of the Icarus Project are tossed into the mix via diary excerpts from Martin Moore, and Matthew Icarus, which are pinned at the start of each chapter. In the present, there's a sub-plot concerning the Latent Network; those with small time extrahuman abilities. Their equally small time involvement is levered in as interludes. The main thrust of the contemporary story concerns the murderous activities of Dr Hypnotic, a major super-villain and serious Mental power, who has escaped from Blackbird prison for super-villains. Concurrent with this are snapshots of conflict with various former heroes, who having been freed from Corp-Co mind control, are now on the rampage. There's a lot cooking here, but is it a sumptuous feast, or a recipe for queasiness?

Shades of Gray is every bit as readable as its predecessor, and a few degrees up the maturity scale, although it never abandons the juvenile pow zok wham feel of traditional superhero based fiction. I found that the constant flip-flop of plot-lines between past and present became a little disorienting, and depths that were hinted at are sometimes left dangling. What we do get is a much better look into the early lives of the Shadow powers, Blackout and Night, including the reasons why Blackout, father of Jet, went insane, and when the corruption of Night began. Also of particular relevance are the life and times of Luster, once a celebrated hero of New Chicago, who would eventually become the charismatic super-villain Arclight, and the father of Iridium. Against this, the adventures in the present of Iridium and Jet, along with various teammates, felt depleted of gravitas. Excepting when today's heroes go up against Dr Hypnotic, who is the one threat that truly feels dangerous. There are some splendidly dark scenes, such as the moment where Luster rescues the toddler Jet from her mad father, which is loaded with menace. Where things occasionally fall short is when the story snaps back into superhero-lite mode. Kessler and Kittredge have something here that is interesting, but it takes a hit whenever imagination is in short supply. An example being the superhero team who begin this book as the Squadron, and end up as the Protectors! Either the authors do not know of the TV show bearing the same name, or they do not care. Its use, I must admit, clashes with an earlier use that is now well in the past. But to me it was still lazy research. Even calling the new group the Protectorate, would've been better. Then there's Squadron: India, an inclusion indicating that there is a world outside of North America, which ends up as no more than a trailer.

Shades of Gray lurched around a lot, often leaving me feeling shaken but not especially stirred. The novel's present is set is far enough ahead of today for God and Lord to have been replaced in common speech by Jehovah and Light, yet there are cultural references which sounded like yesterdays news, and diary quotes from the 70s. As if the authors did not know enough about their brave new world to feel confident in abandoning the old, familiar signposts. There are some standout characters, and even more promise than the first book, but what I found maddeningly frustrating was that depth is often quickly palmed, in favour of frivolity. The past of this world, and its battered characters, came across as far more interesting than the present. Having said that, I'm well aware that how I'd like to see this series develop may be quite different from the preferences of the readers that Kessler and Kittredge have in mind. As with any work that is set in such a wide and varied genre, its very much a case of horses for courses. Fans of superhero fiction who want much greater depth and realistic characterisation should seek out the Wild Cards novels edited by George R.R. Martin. Those who are more interested in exuberant fun, with plenty of action and a dash of darkness, may find that Project Icarus is just the job.

Copyright © 2010 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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