Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Watched Watched
by Tihema Baker
Huia Press

Supplied for review by Huia Press

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

Superheroes seem to enjoying a surge in popularity in visual media right now, with a number of big movies and expensive TV series in production, and I’ve noticed a growth in their appearance in print, and in books without pictures at that. The advantage for the writer is that they are able to get into the head of the nascent superhero, and explore how the individual feels about their prodigal powers. This is something that Tihema Baker does very well; showing great skill at getting inside the minds of teenagers and their relationships. Perhaps too much; I spent a great deal of time while reading this novel wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. When it did, only a few short chapters from the end, it did so with a vengeance, and a great deal of action was squeezed into the last few pages.

The real difficulty is that this is essentially a "school for superheroes" story, and that has been done, very thoroughly by the X-Men and Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, and by numerous others. Even Disney has done this trope, in the movie Sky High. It doesn’t help that the young supers in Watched have essentially the same origin story as the X-men; it may be called a "prodigium" gene, but it’s still a genetic mutation, and that equates prodigies to mutants. It would have helped if the author had come up with a more creative origin story, maybe even something we hadn’t seen before.

That said, the manipulation of dark matter (as opposed to darkness) is a power that you don’t find in many of the comics – at least it’s something I don’t recall having come across previously. As is the use of the black robots called Stalkers as assistants and as punch-bags in the training rooms. Though there is no explanation for the advanced technology (some of it decidedly weird science) that they represent. Or for the location of Castle Infinity, and what keeps it hidden from the eyes of the world – or what keeps it supplied with food and materials. I was also a bit dubious about the power groups as they became apparent late in the story. If a super-powered individual sees fit to create a hurricane in a populated area it doesn’t say much for their humanitarian values.

So, I shall give good marks for characterisation, good for writing style, average in plotting, but poor for a lack of originality and of coherence in the world-building department. I suspect that teenage boys will enjoy the action here, and it is certainly nice to see a superhero story that kicks off in Wellington. Oh, and the author does set up for a sequel.

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