Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Praesidium follows Kathryn (“Kate”), a woman who was orphaned at a young age, discovering that she and her family aren't entirely normal. Kathryn is approached by a secret organization of superheroes similar to The Avengers, Justice League, or X-Men.
This organization is led by the enigmatic Raphael and consists of other extraordinary beings like Michael (the cowboy who can see into other dimensions), Ashley (a Southern girl with precognition), Greg (the buff, muscular Greek man who, like Kathryn, is still discovering his superpower), and Kathryn herself.
Early on, Kathryn discovers her ability to heal. Over time, she discovers where her special powers come from, owing to a unique and messy lineage. Kathryn is also often joined by Scott, her boyfriend from when she attended college at Yale.
Together, the heroes take on a series of missions that mostly seem to revolve around a conspiracy by the forces of evil to run child-smuggling rings and steal the energy from out of vortexes.
There are two major villains in this book: Turner and Jacquelyn. The one that dominates much of it is Jacquelyn, Kate's aunt. And that's no huge shocker or surprise, we already know that Jacquelyn is fishy from the first two pages.
Let's talk about that for a moment. This book has one of the best first lines of any fiction book, something that gets your attention and makes you really think that something huge and potentially violent is going down. Then, subverting the reader's expectations, we're presented with the most hilarious and ridiculous scene in the book: the flapping of the arms. Oh, gosh. We couldn't get over it. 100 pages in, 200 pages in, 250+ pages in, we just couldn't stop thinking about and laughing about the flapping of the arms. Every time we thought about it, we broke out laughing. Could you imagine that? Your crazy old aunt comes over, has an argument with your dad that you don't understand, then starts flapping her arms like she's high as a kite?
Now, this kind of sets the tone for the book. You think it's going to be this big, action-packed, hard-hitting, emotional epic, but it ends up being lighthearted and funny. It's a little bit like the first Avengers movie in that sense, but in novel form.
Something just seems... off... Maybe it's the cognitive dissonance we've mentioned. Like, this book just doesn't read or play out with the seriousness you'd expect.
We'll provide some examples. There's a chapter in here that starts out with the character arriving at a park and immediately witnessing a kidnapping. It's a tense opening, but like the opening of the book itself, the tension is quickly squashed by the direction of the narrative. Instead of keeping up with the action and having the characters immediately respond to the kidnapping, the narration goes into exposition that kidnappings were common in the area. Ok... but that doesn't mean that we should just stand around with our hands in our pockets watching it happen. There's something about this book. It's full of amazing, incredible concepts and ideas, but the tension and the action is hit or miss. There seems to be a promise of a big throw-down brawl between people with superpowers (and we do sorta get one near the end on a train), but most of this book consists of the characters arriving at a place (practically teleporting), doing something somewhat adventurous, and learning something we probably already inferred about Kate or her family. You might react to the one or two duuun duuuun duuuuuun moments or you might not. We weren't particularly awed by it, but we read a lot of fiction and can usually see things coming from a mile away.
The other thing that continued to bother us was the main relationship between Kate & Scott. There's something about their romance that doesn't seem earned. It seems sudden, abrupt, and maybe a little forced. Scott comes in hard and fast—he's very in-your-face about his affection. One minute he's hanging out, another minute he's on one-knee proposing. There's no subtlety about it at all. And when you lose subtlety, you lose tension. This is the first book in a series. You don't want your main couple to be together and married in your first book. You want the characters to struggle with it and to be uncertain. And, yes, there's an element of a long-distance relationship and Scott wrestling with who he is and what Kate does at her new job, but even that doesn't seem to work well. Why? Because Scott is always around in some way, shape, or form. Even when he's like, “I miss you, Kate, we've been apart for so long and I'm worried about you saving kidnapped kids” (to paraphrase), it doesn't hit because we know he's probably going to show up in a few pages anyway. We hate to say it, but Scott almost comes across as like a third wheel or a nuisance. Maybe he'll be more productive and appealing in the sequels?
Jacquelyn is a pretty interesting villain who makes things personal with the protagonist. We all have that one crazy aunt we don't like to visit. Jacquelyn is that x 10 + superpowers + evil. Turner is Turner. There really doesn't seem to be that much more to his character. He is an adequate villain: the bad guy who does bad stuff.
Ashley might be the most likable character in this book. She reminds us of Steffi from The Ring. She's the sweet, thoughtful, supportive friend we could all use. Her precog power is cool and also fits her conscientious character.
Kathryn is a character with a lot to unpack, and that will likely be unpacked in time throughout the course of the series.
You can check it out on Amazon!