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Anathemixed Feelings

By Sharkerbob, author of Graven

Oct 9, 2018: I can’t say Anathema is a fresh take on its concepts, but does manage to feel distinct. The two big themes that I perceive from the story are an emphasis on showing that superhumans are just normal people with powers, with all the psychological problems that entails, and the idea of superhumans being walking weapons of mass destruction and the impact this has on society.

After an event called the Pulse grants random people superhuman abilities, an age of Heroes and Villains and Rogues (neutrals) springs forth, and lasts barely over two years before it all just goes to hell. Powerful villains are on the move. The heroes are being kicked around by red tape, personal crises, and team politics. Rogues are forced to engage in divisive politics, while various factions amass power and manipulate things from behind the scenes to determine the fate of the world.

Sounds pretty baller. But for all that, it took me a while to get into the story.

The good parts: The writing is solid enough. I believe English is not the author’s first language, but I didn’t even notice. The characters are well-explored, you get a good feel for them. I appreciate the attempts at world building to better contextualize the Hero-Villain-Rogue system. While these aren’t the most creative powers, some of the later villain fights are interesting, in that there are a lot of threats that can’t just be outright punched or zapped out of existence, and the protagonists really have to think on their feet. So, that can be refreshing at times.

I also found the character interactions to be well done, there’s decent chemistry between teams and couples. The shift between three characters is a nice way to get a fuller picture of events, aided further by the Interlude chapters which give new insights from different perspectives. I also like the idea of the protagonists dealing with a potential superhuman apocalypse, as the idea that even the protagonists themselves may be a danger to the very world they’re trying to save is an intriguing challenge.

Now for the bad: The pacing of the story is too slow for my taste. Too much of the early half is spent with characters being rendered inactive due to personal hang-ups, red tape, and politics/faction manipulation. In the later half, the action finally starts to pick up, but even here it feels like things can drag on before the conflicts get resolved. Also, a few major events happen effectively off-screen that might have been better if they were shown instead of told in “updates.”

The characters took a while to click with me. Im not entirely sure why, maybe its because of the slow pacing, maybe its because the three protagonists spend much of the story being robbed of their agency, but as such, it wasnt until getting a fair ways in that I started feeling invested in their fates.

I also feel like the attempt at “cape politics” was somewhat lacking. There isn’t really a lot of push and pull power play going on, where the factions are having to constantly out think one another, it’s mostly the government and the villains just pushing the heroes around. I do appreciate that the story is trying to make a more nuanced reality of superhumans than you’d usually find in comic books, but personally, I find it falls flat for me.

Overall, I do think the story has a lot going for it, but for me personally, it felt kind of bland for a big chunk of it. It does start coming together well at the end. I would recommend people check it out, if they like a more character and drama focused superhero tale.

5 of 6 members found this review helpful.
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