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Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots (2012)
Written by: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 204 (Hardcover)
Series: Book One (Velveteen)

Why I Read It: Despite being a fan of McGuire's work, this was actually an impulse-buy. The premise never really grabbed my attention, and I thought it was meant for more of a middle-grade audience. But I just happened to read McGuire's blog when she announced that ISFiC Press was taking pre-orders, and all of those pre-orders would be signed, so I decided to go ahead and grab it. And because it was the end of the year and I was looking for something light, fluffy, and fast to read, this was next in line after Stephenie Meyer's novella. I figured it'd be a good palette-cleanser. ;)

The premise: ganked from BN.com: Velveteen: “How dare you? I never asked for you to hunt me down!”

No, Velma Martinez hadn’t. But when you had once been Velveteen, child super-heroine and one of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division, you were never going to be free, even if your only power was to bring toys to life. The Marketing Department would be sure of that.

So it all came down to this. One young woman and an army of misfit toys vs. the assembled might of the nine members of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division who had come to take her down.

They never had a chance.

Velveteen lives in a world of superheroes and magic, where men can fly and where young girls can be abducted to the Autumn Land to save Halloween. Velma lives from paycheck to paycheck and copes with her broken-down car as she tries to escape from her old life.

It’s all the same world. It’s all real. And figuring out how to be both Velveteen and Velma is the biggest challenge of her life, because being super-human means you’re still human in the end.

Join us as award-winning author Seanan McGuire takes us through the first volume of Velveteen’s – and Velma’s – adventure.

Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. The format of this book is more of a serial thing, so it's not worth spoiling what little there is of the overall arc of the book. So feel free to keep reading unless you're in a hurry, and in that case, just skip to "My Rating" and you'll be fine. Everyone else, onward!

Discussion: Yes, Live Journalers, I'm adding a "discussion" tab after the cut, because it's something I have to add when I post the same review to Word Press, and I'm trying to reduce the amount of work I have to do to get the Word Press versions of my reviews ready.

So. *coughs, clears throat*

This latest series by McGuire is an interesting one. I know for a fact these stories, or at least chunks of them, have been posted in McGuire's blog (and stories I expect to see in a future installment are being posted currently). I've never read them. For some reason, when authors (even favorites), post fiction online to read on a website or blog, I can't muster up the enthusiasm to read their stuff. Maybe it's because I've got so much in my TBR, or maybe it's because I don't feel like I'm really READING something I can count towards my annual totals. I don't know. But I do know I don't read them as a rule, and McGuire wasn't an exception.

The book, though, is divided in that same serialized format. Each story (or chapter, because this book does have an overall arc) is labeled with cute titles like "Velveteen vs. The Old Flame" or "Velveteen vs. The Ordinary Day," and those were fun, especially since they put me with the right mindset in which to approach the coming installment.

But it took a wee bit of time for me to warm up to the book, I have to admit. For starters, I wasn't entirely sold on the premise, and for that matter, I soon realized I'd rather misunderstood the premise as well: I thought this was more of a middle-grade/YA thing, but no. We meet Velma/Velveteen as an adult, and we see her reminiscing to her younger days and we learn how she became the superheroine she is today (with all the ups and downs that entailed), and once I got that under my utility belt, there was still coming to terms with the tongue-and-cheek writing style McGuire was employing here. And there's definitely a kind of snark and satire at play here, though I'm no expert on the latter. But from the start, I knew McGuire was intentionally playing up certain writing styles. For example, the info-dump-through-dialogue/As-You-Know-Bob-ism on page 8:

"Gosh, you haven't changed a bit. You're still the same nice Jewish boy genetically combined with a giant crustacean by his scientist father in a vain effort to save him from the inexplicable genetic wasting disease." The habit of recapping in conversation was hard to break, especially when dealing with other superheroes.

At that point, I knew I had to take the writing style with a grain of salt, and once I did that, I was able to enjoy myself a bit more and enjoy these stories as they were meant to be enjoyed, rather than how I'd previously expected them to be enjoyed.

So my usual nitpicks don't apply: sure, McGuire utilizes too many POVs, but the main POV is Velma, and the others are just highlights, and because I get emotionally attached to Velma (both the young and adult versions of her), I don't mind the quick asides that deepen the plot and hint at bigger and more dangerous things to come.

I was also able to enjoy the humor. I didn't mark EVERY instance that made me grin, but one in particular did stand out on page 169:

All in all, it really wasn't much of a fight. But it took quite some time for the screaming to stop, and longer for Velveteen to explain to the deeply puzzled police why they needed an EMT with tweezers and a magnifying glass if they wanted to get all the tiny plastic bullets out.

It was a good night's work.

And I have to give credit where credit is due: Velveteen's super power was utilized in ways I never would have imagined, and I loved the creativity behind it and how she was actually far more powerful than she or some others gave her credit for. Then there's the social commentary on the media and reality television in how Velma/Velveteen has been constantly groomed to act as if she's in front of a camera, and how even when she's determined to quit the superhero business, she finds herself still catering to those lessons that were drilled into her when she was a child.

I like, too, that we clearly have a bigger arc than just what's in the book. Velma seems to have a higher calling, despite her not knowing it yet, and while I haven't figured out what it is (I've got very vague ideas), I do like that there's more at stake in these stories than Velma/Velveteen kicking ass and taking names. Because while that IS entertaining, it's also something I could easily tire of. But there's more here than meets the eye, if you'll forgive me for using a Transformers reference (but Velveteen would certainly approve: surely she's brought more of those to life than Michael Bay), and that makes this a series worth following.

My Rating: 6 - Worth Reading, with Reservations

The only real reservation I have here is that this isn't something I'd give to those readers who are uninitiated with McGuire's work. As I said in my review, it's a very tongue-in-cheek, light and fluffy read that is enjoyable but not necessarily McGuire's best work. It's definitely worth reading if you're already a fan, but not the first thing I'd give to someone if I was trying to turn them into one. So there's that, but fans of superhero stories might get a kick out of this, especially if they enjoyed the tone and humor found in Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age. Extra perk: Vaughn herself writes an enjoyable afterword to this book, and Jim Hines writes quite the enjoyable introduction!

It's a good read, and I'm glad I gave into the impulse. I'll definitely keep my eyes out for Volume 2. :)

Cover Commentary: I just don't care for this style of art, to be honest. And hell, for a long time, I thought it was a young Velma looking up at a poster of her teammates and feeling left out, that is until I read the book and realized that no, it's the adult Velma looking up at a poster of herself and her old team (which should've been obvious, but hey, I miss the obvious). I think it captures the right emotional tone to the book: Velma's insecurity, feeling alone and like she doesn't belong, but the art really doesn't do much for me. And random observation: I keep thinking Rainbow Brite when I see Sparkle Bright on the cover. I'm sure that's very, very intentional, given the superheroine's name. :)

Next up: vN by Madeline Ashby


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2013 08:13 pm (UTC)
Never read anything by McGuire before, but the premise sounds fun, and I'm a huge fan of tongue-in-cheek, so I'll have to keep my eyes out for this.

What would you rec to an uninitiated McGuire fan, btw, since you don't consider this his best work?
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:10 am (UTC)
I think if you like tongue-in-cheek, go ahead and start with this. But don't let it make or break your opinion of the author. Well, don't let it break your opinion of the author. ;) If you love the book, then by all means, try more of her work!

Discount Armageddon is more of a traditional UF/PNR in structure, but it's funny, light-hearted, and has some great world-building.

Actually, great world-building is true of all of McGuire's work, so...

Rosemary & Rue is a darker UF, and the first in McGuire's flagship series. It took a few books before I got hooked, but it's one of my favorite UFs now (and McGuire found her stride).

If you want something REALLY different, her NEWSFLESH series is a post-apocalyptic, zombified amazement that's all about bloggers and the media. It's awesome, and FEED is the first book there, but under her pen name Mira Grant. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, I have Feed in my TBR pile already! I guess I know where to start. ;)
Jan. 4th, 2013 04:39 am (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
I have to say: I was not overly impressed with this setting when I was reading it for free (FREE!!!!) on McGuire's blog at first. It grew on me story after story. And reading all the early parts now, having read many stories ahead for FREE!!! on her blog, I have to say: as semi-tongue-in-cheek, semi-playing-it-dead-straight satire I like it a lot and I feel it was handled very deftly, as long as you can accept she is both playing this tongue-in-cheek and dead-straight.

But I also don't like the cover. No insult to the artist. It's just not the cover I'd design if I had my druthers: I'd want something a LOT more like the covers for the INCRYPTID books are looking to be.

I do need to stress here: having read ahead (because I've been reading along as she posts the "roughs" for free), I enjoyed going back VERY much and seeing all the hints for things that happen later were dropped and I missed, not because I am dense (I'm not) or because it was handled badly, but because it was handled SO VERY WELL that it was PERFECTLY REASONABLE for me to think what I thought, and upon being given further information that Velma does not yet know and cannot yet know, go back and go "ohhhhhhhhhh I totally get what was REALLY happening here now."

Big compliment there. That's SO hard to do well.

I was glad to have the chance to pick this up on Nook. I like paying for things, even when the author makes some version available for free, if I like them. Figure it's a "KEEP AMUSING ME!!!!" tool. That being said I'd suggest someone who's feeling iffy and wants to sample to go to her website and read the version she's got available for free online to see if they'd like it, and if they do I'd encourage them to buy the Nook or Amazon version to get the refined draft, the cool extra commentary, and feed McGuire's cats. :)

Edited at 2013-01-03 02:37 am (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2013 03:22 am (UTC)
Definitely got to keep feeding McGuire's cats. No doubt. :)

Glad to hear that things progress promisingly. :) Looking forward to volume 2!
Jan. 3rd, 2013 03:35 am (UTC)
On an unrelated note, you're reading "Lets Pretend this never happened?" I look forward to your take. The "Bloggess's" post about the gigantic metal chicken (forwarded to me by a friend, who is aware that the Chicken is my Secondary Bird Totem. Long story.) is my Favorite Thing in the Interwebz, mostly because with Too Much Disposable Income I'd....probably buy a gigantic metal chicken and then scare my husband with it just to watch him scream because I was mad at him.

Jan. 3rd, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
That post was how I knew who she was too, and yes, it's in the book. It's such a delightful story. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this book, because I think you'd really get a kick out of her regular arguments with her hubby. :)
Feb. 10th, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
I like some of McGuires work more than others, but this was like cotton candy. I read it so fast it was gone before I knew it. Glad she's writing more of the same!
Feb. 10th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
That's a good description of this! Cotton candy, indeed...
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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