They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded, by James Alan Gardner (Tor)
Sequels are always challenging: how much backstory to include, how much to omit; how to bring new readers up to speed without boring those who’ve just finished previous volumes; and most of all, how to keep the series fresh and engaging. They Promised Me succeeds on every measure. If anything, it’s more entertaining and has even more heart than All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault.
In Gardner’s intriguing world, people acquire Dark and Light superpowers, Dark by paying obscene sums of money for immortality (and surrendering any control over their form this “gift” takes – vampire, ghost, demon, or something incredibly squicky and nameless). Light sort of happens to folks, as it did in the first installment, turning our current protagonist, hockey player and science student Jools, into Ninety-Nine, the human Olympic-level best at everything (including WikiJools, encyclopedic knowledge resident in her mind).
Throw into the mix an array of Mad Geniuses and superhero/Mad Genius Robin Hood (who steals from the rich but can’t give to the poor without revealing his secret identity) and his Merry Men, a supernatural bazooka claimed by the villain in the first book and sought after by all and sundry, and a handful of unexpected explosions and side-effects, and the result is a delightfully wacky first-person narrative. It’s got an immense amount of heart, too, because now that the basic rules of this world are established, Light/Dark sides drawn, and action moving right along, the choices Jools makes and the sacrifices she’s willing to make for the people she loves are really what the story is all about.
I hope this one-two switcheroo in point of view character follows through in subsequent volumes, and as I would love to get to know the other flatmates/superheroes in the gang as their lives unfold.
Highly recommended, but do read All Those Explosions first for maximum enjoyment.