Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

Rating: 3 stars

Not Your Villain

Pages: 307

Series: The Sidekick Squad, Book 2

Genres: YA, LGBT, Fantasy, SciFi

Reading Challenges Met: 1 (Asian author: Chinese/Vietnamese); 3 (many intersectional characters, main character is of Asian intersectional identity)

I feel like this book could have been done much better. The first third of it was rehashing the events leading up to the plot in the first book as well as the events that take place within the first book, just from Bells’ perspective. Doing so ruined the flow of the story for me as I was excited to see what would happened after the ending of the first book and this lull in the plot really pulled me out of the world. The writing itself was still good, but having the first part of this book be a different perspective of the first greatly reduced my willingness to read the rest of the series.

I still enjoyed the characters themselves and the world, but the flow of the story was off for me. After enjoying the first book so much, this one was a bit of a disappointment to me.

After looking at other reviews of this book I seem to be in the minority in regards to the first third of the book. Many people enjoyed seeing the events of the first book from a different perspective as it did help fill in some blanks. My issue with this was that it messed with the flow of the story for me, making it hard for me to get back into the world once the plot of the book caught up to the end of the first book.

Looking at this book on its own, it was enjoyable but not amazing. While the LGBTQ+ representation was just as amazing as the first book, I didn’t find this plot to be as good. Lee wrote a wide representation of the LGBTQ+ community and was able to show that it’s okay to be true to who you are even if you’re not sure who that may be.

Another part of this book that I wasn’t the biggest fan of was that the flow of the story felt quite choppy and inconsistent. I felt like the scenes that moved the plot forward were interrupted at random times by action scenes that didn’t need to happen at that exact moment. While I understand stories about supers tend to have a lot of action sequences, I prefer my action sequences to have a point.

Overall, I’d say this was an average book. I wish that it had more that reminded me of the first book as it felt a lot like a filler book to me. Sure it was packed with action but a lot of the action felt hollow to me, put in there just to take up space. A lot of the story happened without anything really going on or any movement towards the crew’s end goals. The LGBTQ+ representation in this book was done so well that I wouldn’t want to rate this book any lower than I have. In fact, that’s probably what saved this book for me and will help me read on if I do continue to read the series. I find not a lot of books have good LGBTQ+ representation so I’m loathe to give up on a series that does this so well.

*Spoilers ahead*

I know that high school relationships are quick to start and are usually fleeting, but I felt for Bells when he called Emma over to confess his feelings to her and she told him that she had a boyfriend. Ouch.

I also enjoyed seeing Emma reacting to Bells’ “girlfriend”. As a reader I can tell that Emma had feeling for Bells that she hadn’t realized yet and little snippets like that were cute. Even though her boyfriend writes her a love note by hand the way that Bells does (though secretly and he doesn’t give it to her), I think the only reason Emma found it so touching is because it was something that she knew Bells would do.

If Emma does decide for herself that she’s aromantic or asexual, that would be just as a fulfilling arc for her. It would show Emma coming into her own and accepting herself. It’s obvious that she still loves Jess and Bells even if she doesn’t find herself romantically interested in anyone.

At the ending of the book the two of them get together, as Emma realizes she loves Bells and is finally able to say it out loud,  and I do believe that Emma and Bells would be an adorable couple. However, Bells’ willingness to remain her friend if that’s all she could handle was great. It’s a very mature mentality to have for anyone, and Bells has it as a high school student.

I understand the parents’ position of not wanting to get their children involved in the rescue mission, but if it wasn’t for the kids in the first place they wouldn’t have known something was up or have gotten Abby’s mom freed. As well, using Jess’ finding powers would have been a pretty smart thing to do.

Finding out that the parents were hiding out and just rescuing supers was an interesting twist. Sure it’s not the smartest thing to put yourself in danger, but the whole point of them going off was to try and rescue Abby’s dad and the rest of the supers. It seems as if they’d completely given up on saving Abby’s dad even though doing so would help their cause and stop the corruption of the government.

Speaking of the government, was it just me that thought it was fishy that the government was completely ignoring the genetic testing throughout the first half of the book? Sure they made it seem like Orion was to blame for everything, but that’s a little too convenient. There’s no way that the government didn’t know that things were going on and are just covering it up. I’m sure Captain Orion was just acting on their orders. Heck, in the first part of the book Bells’ handler tries to convince him to recapture Abby’s mom and continue to do work for the league.

While not surprising, it was nice to see Orion admit that the League was bankrolling her experiments. It shows that the government itself really is the corrupt body that made Orion into who she became. That being said, I find it hard to believe that the League stopped hoping that Orion’s experiments would work out in the end. Sure they didn’t like their treachery being made public knowledge, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want things to work out. They may not be funding the experiments anymore, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have a stake in the outcome.

On top of that, the heros didn’t know that the fights were staged. It’s obvious that the government was planning these incidents with the villains, which the perfectly placed cameras can attest to. It sucks that the heros honestly believed that they were doing good work and helping out society while the government was purely using them as publicity stunts and as a way to hide their shady dealings.

Did the kids really think that walking back into the lab as Abby was a good idea? They already know that a top executive of the company had it in for them, why would they think that it’s a good idea to sneak in and try to steal files? Stone had already admitted that he wanted their robots to be militarized, why is it such a stretch to believe that he was working with Orion? I can’t say I was surprised to see her in Stone’s office, or to hear that Stone used tantalum to secure his office.

I liked that Claudia tried to help Bells from the first moment that he woke up in the cell. I honestly believe that the audio for the camera didn’t work because Claudia did something to ensure it wouldn’t. This makes me hope for a redemption arc for Claudia. Of course, it could easily go the other route and end up with Claudia being the ultimate villain of the story. She was able to convince Orion of certain things as a way to keep Orion in her control without making it obvious that she was doing so.

I’m glad to see that Abby’s powers aren’t gone forever, just blocked by the serum Claudia pushed into her. It was nice that Bells was the one that was able to make Abby feel better about this, to show her that her powers aren’t gone forever. As well, I enjoyed seeing Bells grow into his powers and learn to do things with them that he wouldn’t have thought of before.

Finally, I’d like to discuss the robots and their relentless attack of the crew. I don’t believe that it’s the government alone that is sending them after the kids. Orion and Claudia were the only two who had information as to Bells’ real identity and I find it hard to believe they’d share it with the government if they weren’t working together. My hypothesis is either Orion/Claudia is sending the robots after them and using the government as an excuse or Orion/Claudia is still working with the government.

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