Book/Author and Year Published: A Trick of Light: Stan Lee’s Alliances by Stan Lee and Kat Rosenfeld (with afterwords by Luke Lieberman and Ryan Silbert) (2019)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Science Fiction, Action & Adventure

Preferred Reading Environment: Safe in your basement full of screens

Reading Accoutrements: Energy drinks and cheetos

Content Notes: Parental Abandonment and Death, Violence, Bullying, Prejudice

On September 17th, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released the first book of Alliances, a new series by Kat Rosenfeld and the late Stan Lee. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might wonder about some of the weird “National Days” we spotlight. Truth is, we sometimes need help to narrow down which books we want to review, so we use the good old internet to find theme ideas. When I saw that today was National Comic Book Day, I knew I wanted to cover one of Stan Lee’s last projects before he died. It meant I only had a week between the release date and this review, but it was worth it.

A Trick of Light follows Cameron, a high school senior with aspirations of becoming a YouTube influencer, who is live-streaming his trips on Lake Erie to determine why the lake has had such weird weather. On his first expedition, Cameron sails directly into a freak storm and is struck by lightning. When he awakens in a hospital bed, he is overwhelmed by information from an unknown source. He knows his heart rate, what his mother has been texting, and that his best friend is down the hall, but he doesn’t know how he knows all of this. Turns out, Cameron can talk to computers. It takes him a week to figure out his new ability and how to control it enough to leave the hospital, all while keeping it a secret from everyone around him.

In true superhero fashion, Cameron tinkers with his power until he has satisfactory control and can go back to his everyday life. Then, after a brief foray into using his ability on a daily basis – making all of the usual new-superhero-just-got-his-powers mistakes – he decides he hates the responsibility that comes with his new talent. He locks himself in his mother’s basement to play video games, alone. 

Which is how he meets Nia, a 17-year-old homeschooled genius whose father is overprotective. She beats Cameron repeatedly in video games where he has been dominating since he acquired his ability. Cameron and Nia begin a computer-based friendship and eventually begin to work on self-assigned “missions” to correct internet wrongs. They take down an anti-immigration conspiracy-spouting podcast and an online bully, among others, before they realize that there is a much larger culprit behind all of the hatred on the internet.

Meanwhile, Xal, an alien from a planet that was destroyed long ago, discovers the energy signature of the man who destroyed her people and her home. The Inventor, as she calls him, is hiding on Earth. She decides to track down her nemesis and kill him.

Okay, that’s enough about the plot! I don’t want to give too much away.

In case you didn’t already know, I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I deeply appreciate a good superhero story, and Stan Lee is one of the most well-known superhero creators to date. It is especially cool to see superhero stories that include relevant commentary about society today. Stan Lee has always been willing to use his platform to handle contemporary issues; he took a risk on X-Men even when a lot of anti-semitism in the comic book industry was censoring WWII commentary. Cameron and Nia fight a war on the internet; their goal is to connect people in a positive way, instead of dividing with hate as they have observed others do. Even Xal, a fairly violent alien with designs on our planet, believes that the internet can connect an entire world in a positive way. One of the major messages I got from this book, and one I appreciate immensely, is that we can use the internet to heal instead of harm. We just have to make an effort to build each other up – celebrate our differences – instead of tear each other down.

The two main characters in A Trick of Light are teenagers. They start out the book limited by many things in their lives. Cameron is limited by his age, his access to resources, and his finite understanding of technology and the world around him. When he gains his new talent, Cameron suddenly sees more of the world than he realized was possible. He sees more than many of the adults in his life are capable of. Nia is limited by her father’s fear and her imagination. As she works with Cameron, she learns to embrace her freedom and her emotions in a much more visceral way. By the end of the book, the two no longer think in terms of what they can’t do, but rather with a mindset of “how to make it possible.” Stan Lee has always been a proponent of “the little guy” and I love that he chose to empower the next generation with this story.

A Trick of Light was released as an audiobook, although I did not listen to it for my first readthrough. However, I am interested in listening to the audiobook version – as Stan Lee intended this story to be told – in the near future. I chose to read it first because I am notorious for travelling away in my mind and completely missing major plot points of audiobooks and, if I already know what’s going to happen, I’ll be less likely to misunderstand something. 

The fact that I’m interested in rereading this book so soon is a good indicator that I really enjoyed it. While Stan Lee helped to create the story arc and develop the characters for the Alliances series, Kat Rosenfeld brought the story to life. The team did an excellent job of bringing relatable characters in very unique situations to their readers. I look forward to reading the rest of the series as it is released! 

Who’s your favorite superhero?

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