Book: Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for Ultra Human Protection by Alexander C. Kane (2019)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Superhero Fiction

Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite cape

Content Notes: Violence, Unemployment

Is anyone else really really really sad that superhero movies have delayed their release dates until after this pandemic situation calms down more? Because I’m over here going absolutely crazy waiting for a new superhero movie to obsess over. So, when I received an email from Amazon Kindle Unlimited about Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for Ultra Human Protection, I jumped on it.

Andrea Vernon is a young professional with a backstory I really related to. She is a recent (within the last couple of years) college graduate, with a dream of writing a book about something she is passionate about – an obscure historical figure from somewhere in Europe. Upon graduating from college, Andrea took odd jobs and temp positions in the US in order to make enough money to live in various European cities on work visas. When her work visas expired, she went back to the US to start the process over again.

It is in this state that we find Andrea, sitting in her apartment in New York City and applying to jobs. Her life is full of questions with no answers, so when she comes across a job description that says, “Absolutely no questions ever,” she decides to apply. Within minutes, masked men break into her apartment to take her to a job interview in her pajamas.

The Corporation for Ultra Human Protection (or CUP) is one of several competing agencies for various types of superheroes, including aliens, mutated humans, adepts, and biologically-enhanced humans. If you’re wondering what I mean by “competing agencies,” picture talent agencies for athletes, models, and actors. These agencies hire superheroes while their sales departments simultaneously find contracts with various local governments for superheroes to protect citizens and property. Superhero protection has effectively been privatized. That can’t possibly come with consequences…

Andrea is hired to be the administrative assistant to Ms. Persephone Oh, the Vice President of Sales and Operations at CUP. The executive team of CUP has chosen to remain anonymous, so Ms. Oh is the highest ranking known employee of CUP. Andrea finds her learning curve drastically hindered by the fact she is contractually prohibited from asking questions. She cannot, for example, ask Ms. Oh how she likes her coffee. Instead, Andrea performs a series of experiments to determine what type of beverage Ms. Oh prefers at different times of day. It certainly prevents her from becoming bored.

CUP’s moratorium on questions seems to be the most difficult part of her new position…until a giant egg from outer space parks itself threateningly over Brooklyn. Suddenly, CUP is thrown into a bidding war to protect Brooklyn, while sourcing useful superheroes to have at the ready, and researching the unknown threat waiting to hatch over one of New York City’s beloved boroughs. In the meantime, Andrea manages to fight personal battles in the form of her overachieving siblings, silently disappointed parents, and an undefined relationship with an 8-foot tall, ax-wielding superhero. Just another day in the life of Andrea Vernon.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase: this book is full of cheese. I’m talking superheroes with corny catch phrases reminiscent of Captain Hammer (as played by Nathan Fillion in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). An executive team as mysterious as the Glowing Cloud in Welcome to Night Vale. A boss with the potential to be worse than Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. A family with overachieving children to rival Leonard in The Big Bang Theory…anyway, you’re catching my drift.

Despite the corniness, I’m a huge fan of the many and varied relationships represented in this book. Often, main characters in comic book worlds (no, this isn’t a comic book but that’s where superhero plotlines have traditionally thrived) have a limited number of associates who make frequent appearances – likely because drawing new characters comes with a lot of challenges. But Andrea has several siblings, some she is closer to than others. She works hard to make her immigrant parents proud. She has friends from college she occasionally corresponds with, coworkers she is getting to know while abiding by her contractual obligation not to ask questions, and a friends-with-benefits style relationship with a coworker that she resists developing further. An ex-boyfriend even makes a guest appearance. Those are just some of the main character’s relationships! It is really impressive when an author can pack all of these relationships (and more) into the first book in a series while still managing to include an epic fight scene and a reasonable (for a cheesy comic book-inspired storyline) plot that comes full circle.

Okay, so I have mentioned a couple of times that the superheroes have cheesy one-liners, but they also have super (pun intended) cheesy names. I want to give you a couple of examples: 

  • The Big Axe – an 8-foot-tall, axe wielding guy who “chops evil down with his mighty axe,” 
  • Senora Fuego – basically a female human torch, 
  • King Tiger –  a tiger/human (a human born with the head, paws, and fur of a tiger), 
  • Permafrost – think Frozone from The Incredibles, and 
  • Inspector Well Actually – a normal guy except that he knows everything…but only when he’s correcting someone else (possibly modeled off of that insanely irritating know-it-all hipster at the bar – you know, that guy – arguably the most annoying superhero of all time). 

In this world, superhero naming has had to be regulated in order to minimize confusion; when there are twelve hawk-man hybrids, we have to make sure that we keep them straight. So, naming has become a bit of a challenge for the poor superheroes trying to make a living…and the corporations who employ them.

This book is told from a third-person perspective that follows a single character in every chapter. The beginning of the book follows Andrea, in order to introduce the characters and setting – she is new to all of this, so world-building exposition happens naturally in these chapters. Occasionally, the narrator follows another character to expand on a plot point brought up by Andrea’s exploration of this aspect of her world. That’s how the big fight scene is described to the reader – from the third-person-narrated perspectives of individual characters, one at a time.

Speaking of the big fight scene! I don’t want to give too much away, so this will be vague, but man do I love a good fight scene – one of my biggest pet peeves is a book that builds up to an epic final battle that never happens (*cough* Twilight Saga *cough*) – and this fight fit right in with the ridiculousness of the rest of the book. Each character, superhero or otherwise, struggles with a well-matched enemy at some point during this fight. It’s a pretty great fight scene with a couple of enemies that are silly (if you haven’t figured it out already, if you don’t like silliness in your superhero stories – I’m looking at you Batman lovers – this book probably isn’t for you) but still good opponents. My only complaint is that this is the only place in the book where the narrator goes back in time to fill in what another character is doing while something we just read about is happening in the background. It was disorienting at first, but turned out to be worth the minor annoyance because we got to see each character’s complete battle sequence.

This is the first book in a series and I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens next! Will Andrea and her friends-with-benefits superhero finally make it official? Will Andrea quit her job at CUP and move to Europe on a temporary work visa? Will her siblings ever respect her? Will we ever meet the executive team? I have so many questions!!! I’d better get started on the next book…

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