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Daring but Didactic

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Jan 30, 2019: Vigilantes Make Us Safe (henceforth VMUS) is an intriguing, ambitious idea. Essentially, it is a collection of serials where each one follows a specific character in a wider world where the American government has legalized vigilante justice. In short, I feel the idea, while shaky, is more let down by the execution than the core concepts.

This review covers Hitbox, Rebel Rebel, Dynamo, Serenity and Toxic, as well as the first few chapters of The Law. I have attempted to condense the thoughts, positive or negative, into ones that are more of a recurring pattern across the various works. The most obvious part of the pattern, and therefore what I’m going to mention first, is that VMUS feels like a very political work, written as a response to certain events that took place within the United States over the past few years, and the fears of what might result from them.

So, for better or worse, VMUS certainly feels unique.

But it is hard to ignore that feeling, and it leaves the various works feeling quite didactic. The third-person present tense, combined with the characterization and often-clunky dialogue, reinforces that feeling. The sense of didacticism is further bolstered by how the stories proceed, as if we are reading a summary of stories written elsewhere. Often, the pacing is a bit shaky, where a lot of time (and words) is spent on exposition, and the elements that could be quite interesting are hastily ‘told’ over. I think the worldbuilding is hit hard by this, too (and I could’ve sworn there was a page on the site that illustrated some of the world’s fictional history, but I couldn’t track it down.)

I don’t have an issue with a political work. If that’s what A.M. Thorn is attempting, then I applaud them and I want to make it clear that I am not penalizing them for it. The issue is that chapters sometimes read more like a summary than a story, and it really hurts the potential. A lot of the components of these stories feel quite strong, but they aren’t given the best opportunity to shine.

For example, I point to the characters. Conceptually, I’d say they are all pretty solid and I liked them all well enough. However, the story uses a lot of distancing language – and a lot of exposition – which, along with that didactic tone, makes it difficult to immerse myself in their lives and problems. As an aside, I think Jia was my personal favorite of the various protagonists.

The writing is all generally pretty solid. As far as grammar and spelling go, I didn’t notice any issues. The stories are pretty easy to follow. However, the exposition can really slow things down. The stories can feel hard to read because so much is heaped on the reader so quickly, exacerbated by the length of many of the paragraphs.

My personal pick of the ones I read is The Law. A lot of the issues I’ve raised are less present there. If I had to point to one thing I’d recommend VMUS does, it would be to guide new readers a bit better. With so many stories, even I felt a touch of choice paralysis. Just a little hint which one is the best to begin with, y’know? As it is, it feels like every story has to spend time establishing itself as if the reader is completely new to the VMUS world.

Overall, though, I think VMUS has a lot of ambition and heart. The execution doesn’t quite match those two things, however, which lets it all down. But there’s so much stuff here, with such a varied cast, that I think everyone might be able to find something they like. With experience and confidence, I think A.M. Thorn might be able to create something really interesting.

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