I wanted to hurry up and finish the series since Archenemies hadn’t taken me nearly as long to read as I’d worried it would. I’d forgotten how fast YA books tend to read, at least in comparison to the Wheel of Time series. So I pushed through this on my break at work and also getting through chunks of it at a time every night. It was not, however, because I found myself unable to put it down. Rather, it was because I was pretty certain if I put Supernova down, I would not want to pick it back up. Perhaps it’s my fault for reading a superhero story when there are a lot of tropes in stories like this that drive me absolutely nuts, but I’d hoped Marissa Meyer would prove to be different from the rest.
In broad strokes, Supernova failed in the same elements that Archenemies did. I can’t stand black-and-white morality, and the antagonists of the series felt too one-dimensional. The narrative could have been cut down tremendously and would have read much better for it. Through most of the story, I found myself wondering when the secrets would finally be revealed and how Nova would inevitably be drawn to turn traitor on the Anarchists. It was messy and bogged down and held a climax both too confusing and convenient to really appreciate. Unlike Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I don’t think the series had a very good start, and whatever momentum it gained, it shattered into tiny pieces by the end.
Warning: spoilers abound.
Secret Identities that Won’t Go Away
One of the biggest flaws that dragged down Supernova was that the plot points were not particularly concise. There were several parts of the narrative that felt like they didn’t really add to the story. For one, Nova’s arrest and immediate transfer to the prison did nothing for her character development and very little for Adrian’s. In fact, her time in the prison was all but glossed over despite making the prison seem like an absolutely terrible place to be.
The only things we really learned while Nova was there was that Ace still held some control of his abilities, that the prisoners managed to stick together to some capacity, and that the Renegades would be bringing them to Ace’s execution to be neutralized with Agent N, all of which I as a reader either knew, could assume, or could have been told through dialogue with the Renegades. The only thing that it really contributed to when it came to the plot was that Adrian got used to the idea of Nova being Nightmare, so that later when her identity was again confirmed, rather than feel betrayed, he could convince her to fight with the Renegades.
That, as well, was dragged out beyond necessity. After rushing through Nova’s time in prison, it spends half of the book covering what amounts to less than a day, all of it laden with conflict. First, it’s the fight that breaks Ace free, leaves many of the Renegades either dead or without their powers, and then almost immediately it launches into the conflict of the cathedral. I’ve been waiting since halfway through Archenemies for the inevitable conflict, and I was getting tired of it. Of course, if the finale had been intense as I think the author was intending, it would have been worth the wait, but instead, it crashed and burned. More on that below.
The False Dichotomy of Good and Evil
Throughout the entire series, the Renegades and Anarchists are pitted against one another as heroes versus villains. The narrative went heavy-handed in its attempt to describe to its audience that things are rarely so black and white. But this theme, this trope, feels very much outdated. Worse, especially within Supernova, the theme feels so heavy-handed that it just adds to the excessive page space. One character in particular, Winston Pratt, was awkwardly shunted from one side to the other, with almost no discussion of the ramifications that should come with it. The Puppeteer was noted to be both creepy and a little insane, but his tragic backstory neither explains nor excuses his behavior as an Anarchist. Nor does it explain Nova’s personal grief at Winston’s death, not when she’s said on multiple occasions that she never cared for the man.
Mostly, though, it was Nova’s character who was given the task of experiencing the “truth” regarding good and evil. It flips on its head the idea of the “good” guys learning to understand and accept the “bad” guys, but Nova’s reason for hating the Renegades remains so flimsy that the theme doesn’t hold from her perspective, even more so when the truth comes out regarding who was truly responsible for her parents’ deaths.
“Everyone Has a Nightmare. Maybe I Want You to be Mine.”
Most of the romance was built in Archenemies, leaving Supernova to deal with the effects of the secret identities and hidden loyalties of both Adrian and Nova (primarily, Nova). Again, I think that the only thing Nova’s trip to the prison really added to the story was to give Adrian time to process and come to terms with the possibility of Nova being Nightmare. In truth, his hatred for Nightmare was on shaky ground to begin with, as Nightmare had no direct role that she played in Lady Indomitable’s death, she failed to kill Captain Chromium in Renegades, and even risked her own identity being revealed when she saved Max’s life in Archenemies. I think that taking note of that might’ve helped make the end result seem a little less strange, but at the same time, it’s clear from the jungle scene in Archenemies that they had chemistry.
That said, I still think that romance was one of the few things that the Renegades series got right. Both with Oscar’s declaration of love to Ruby perfectly timed after the loss of her powers, and Adrian refusing to give up on Nova even after learning she was an Anarchist, and even the established romance between the Dread Warden and Captain Chromium all wound up being pretty three-dimensional.
Revelations of the Monologues
The romance is essentially the only shining beacon among the rest, and although the simple length of the book was primarily what ruined it for me, what I found most annoying were the two “mysteries” that were dragged across the entire series. One: who really killed Nova’s parents, and two: who killed the Lady Indomitable. Considering the climactic feel of Ace’s revelation, it makes sense that it should wait until the cathedral scene for Nova’s mystery to be solved, but Adrian’s could have been answered in the second book, maybe even in the first, and very little would have needed to change. In fact, answering that question earlier would also have given Adrian a chance to figure out why Phobia was able to continue living even after his other creations, like Turbo for example, would continue to fade away. Instead, we’re given a flimsy explanation that really serves only to distract from the tension of the scene and seems unable to hold up to the logic regardless.
As for Ace’s revelation, I found it more disappointing than anything. Nova did not need another reason to get involved in Ace’s downfall. In fact, I think it taints her motives, turning it away from it simply being the right thing to do and instead suggesting that Nova’s final acts against her uncle were purely for revenge. Captain Chromium’s admission that Nova’s family was under Lady Indomitable’s protection and that both groups were murdered on the same night does give a lot of credit to the Renegades, but left open-ended whether the timing had been intentional or coincidental.
I will also add that Honey’s sudden willingness to kill Nova when they’d been close up until then was very abrupt, especially when Leroy seemed willing enough to take it in stride. In Leroy’s case, perhaps it’s because Nova couldn’t hide from him the fact that she and Adrian had fallen in love, or perhaps it’s because Cyanide didn’t seem particularly attached to Ace Anarchy to begin with. I don’t know. But Honey seemed to turn into a real villain just as quickly as Ace, without Ace’s excuse that he wasn’t particularly well-developed as a character and so could more feasibly have these changes of heart without contradicting his former character.
In some fashion, I suppose it’s poetic that Max played such a big role in Ace’s final downfall when he was the one who brought Ace low the first time around. Then again, his appearance in the chapel was sudden and unexpected and basically turned Max into something of a deus ex machina. Prior to putting on Ace’s helmet, Ace probably would have killed Max in all likelihood. And, after… Well, to be honest, it left a lot more questions than it answered.
Primarily, it raises the question of stakes when it came to Agent N. I sped-read the epilogue, so perhaps I missed a few key details, but it’s revealed that “everyone and their mothers” suddenly have powers. This limits peoples’ needs to rely on the Renegades for protection, of course, and kind of forces the Renegades’ hands when it comes to accepting all prodigies. However, I think it’s implied that those who lost their abilities to Agent N, whether in the ridiculous bee-sting scandal or in the fight in the chapel, got them back. But how did Max give away powers that he didn’t directly control? How did he give powers away to people who never had them in the first place? It’s not directly explained, and seems too convenient an ending, tearing away at the established stakes.
The Magpie’s True Identity
To be completely honest, while this revelation had little to do with the overall narrative, the epilogue was just salt in the wound, and left me with even more questions I didn’t know I needed answers to. It’s frustrating enough that, with Supernova dragging on unnecessarily enough as-is, we’re given a revelation that should have been somehow incorporated far, far earlier in the text. Think how Nova would react to learning the Magpie was her sister while also knowing she needs to keep her real identity a secret? That would be a much more compelling reason to keep Nightmare secret from those she loves than Adrian’s own conflict when it came to telling everyone about the Sentinel.
In addition, there are several things that don’t make any sense. Narcissa Cronin looks similar enough to Nova that she can pose as Nightmare to get Nova free, and yet no one seems to notice any physical similarities between Nova and Magpie. How did Evie even wind up in foster care? How did Nova not realize her sister was not covered in blood, and how did Ace, when “rescuing” Nova, not notice the same? Not to mention, with Evie as young as she was, it seems hard to swallow that she would even be conscientious enough to feel enough fear to “wake up” her prodigy powers, which don’t even seem related to her trauma, or even remember a sister well enough to hold a grudge against them.
In fact, thinking about how angry this made me also led me to the realization that Nova, having lost her younger sister, should have taken immediately to Magpie. Just because she was the right age as Evie should have been, and because Evie’s supposed death was what really hit Nova so hard, it would have only made sense for her to want to take care of Magpie despite Maggie’s general inclination towards mistrust. Especially because Maggie/Evie doesn’t seem particularly enthralled with the Renegade code. Why not try to recuit her for the Anarchist cause?
I will say that those who are fans of DC superheroes may find themselves loving the Renegades series. My own personal preferences for reading probably made it very unlikely that I would end up liking this series either way, and the rest was basically just icing on the cake, if the icing was fondant and the cake was vanilla flavored. So if you liked the series, I get it. Lunar Chronicles also seemed to be a little polarizing for its readers, and I just happened to be on the positive side of that series. Just… not so for Renegades.