Just over a week ago, I reviewed Black and White, and said I would be seeking out the sequel; that's exactly what I then did, and yesterday, it arrived.  Today, I read Shades of Night cover to cover, and have to conclude that Kessler and Kittredge remain the authors of some of the best fiction I have read this year; an excellent sequel to an excellent novel.  Spoilers for Black and White follow!

B&W Spoilers Below )
Black and White is most definitely a superhero novel, and a good one at that; but - like the best output of Marvel and DC, among others - it isn't simplistic or, for that matter, black and white.  Indeed, Kessler and Kittredge have subverted the unthinking assumptions we have about superheroes in order to construct a story worthy of talents like Grant Morrison or Jeph Loeb.

The characterisation is one of the strongest elements of this novel, because they get into your head so much.  We have two viewpoint-characters, with chapters alternating between them (one written by Kessler and the other Kittredge? Perhaps, but given the stylistic continuity, I think not); and they're coming from very different, and yet very similar, perspectives.  Jet is a superhero working for the Corp, on the side of light and good; she's a conflicted person, with a deeply troubled past and a damaged psyche, and she's also a very repressed character.  On so many levels she feels like a corporate mouthpiece - and indeed, other characters at times describe her as such - but she's also a character we can sympathise with, especially as we learn more about her past.  The other protagonist is Iridium, a much more starkly grey character; working outside, and indeed against, the Corp, she does try her best to keep order and protect people in the area she operates in - a slum called Wreck City.  Conflicted in a different way to Jet, and with a damaged past of her own, her burning rage alienates the reader at the same time as her humanity draws one in, making one sympathise with her - a strange situation, as we sympathise with characters battling each other as the chapters shift perspective.  The background characters are also stellar; it is hard to praise portrayals of Night, Lester, Bruce, Taser et al. enough, as each is a well-drawn, individual presence in the novel, making themselves felt in the action and with very distinct styles and personalities, and again, none falling into a simple Black and White understanding of the world.

The plot is reminiscent of a number of comics - especially recent Marvel work in the Civil War/Dark Reign storylines; superheroes trying to do what is right, for a very different definition of what is right, and coming into conflict because of those differences - but neither is in the wrong.  The sections of the novel from the past lives of Jet and Iridium are brilliant, in slowly playing out their training and how they interact with the Corp; as it continues, it remains relevant to the present events, as it shows how the relationship between them deteriorated.  Indeed, the focus on the relationship between Jet and Iridium is one of the strongest elements of Kessler & Kittredge's writing; informing the plot, the characters, and the feel of the novel, it is a stunningly evocative and emotive piece of writing.  The control demonstrated as the two different plots come slowly crashing together - Jet's mission from Night, Iridium's plot inspired by her father - is also excellent, and the final twists and reveal are awfully painful to the reader, just as they are to the characters, because they are both so unexpected and so appropriate, as well as being perfectly, brilliantly done.

Black and White is not terribly groundbreaking - Marvel, in recent years, has covered much of the same ground, albeit less complexly and with less of an equivocal view - but it is excellently written and brilliantly human; Kessler and Kittredge do an excellent job of making the extrahumans sympathetic, powerful characters.  I absolutely loved this novel, and quite literally could not put it down; Black and White has, indubitably, made it into my list of the top reads of the year.

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February 2012

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