Flash Fire: The best of its sub-sub-genre

Flash Fire by T.J. KluneFlash Fire by T.J. Klune

Flash Fire by T.J. Klune2021’s Flash Fire is the second book in T.J. Klune’s YA Series The Extraordinaries. This is the best YA superhero origin story / Spiderman-movie parody / coming of age / neurodivergent / queer rom-com I’ve read this year. With most of the background put in place by its predecessor, The Extraordinaries, Flash Fire is tighter, filled with action sequences, super-villains, and a deadly ordeal known as Prom.

This review may contain spoilers for The Extraordinaries.

At first, it seems like Nick Bell’s life is great. He’s acknowledged his feelings for his best-friend Seth (and Seth for him). His cop father has a new assignment as part of the Nova City Extraordinaries Unit. Gibby and Jazz are working closely with Nick to provide support to the one Extraordinary in Nova City, PyroStorm. The villain from Book One is safely restrained in a facility for the insane.

Do things sound too good to be true? They are. Gibby, who is a senior, is looking at going away to college, and Jazz worries that their relationship won’t survive. Gibby, Jazz, Seth and Nick are forced to tell their parents they are PyroStorm’s support team. Generally, the parents take  it adequately, but a rift of distrust immediately opens between Aaron Bell and Gibby’s parents. As Black people, their view of law enforcement is understandably suspicious, and a transgression of Aaron’s which led to him being demoted from detective to uniformed cop doesn’t sit well with them. PyroStorm is keeping a secret from Nick. The villainous Simon Burke, billionaire pharmaceutical tycoon, forces a secret one-on-one meeting with Nick. He fans the flames of Nick’s doubts about his father. Meanwhile, local reporter Rebecca Firestone continues to harass Nick, convinced that he knows PyroStorm’s identity.

Flash Fire embraces its comic book side fully. Soon PyroStorm is confronting the evil Extraordinaries Ice and Smoke, while Simon Burke is holding press conferences, saying he wants to help the Extraordinaries and may even have a cure. Firestone is gleefully aiding and abetting the corporate badguy. Along the way, Nick and PyroStorm encounter a drag queen Extraordinary with a wonderful superhero name.

Nick’s headaches are getting steadily worse, even with the medication he’s been on, and strange things happen around him, confirming what readers and a couple of his friends have suspected since Book One. And soon, Jazz and Nick stumble over a shocking secret about Nick’s mother.The Extraordinaries (3 book series) Kindle Edition by TJ Klune (Author)

In Book One, Aaron had the moral ascendency. Now, revelations about his past cost him the high ground. This leaves Nick without a safety net, and lots of questions.

The morality questions, and the relationship ones are plausible, interspersed with action sequences that are suspenseful and often funny. It culminates in Prom, a night that starts off triumphant and turns into an epic superhero battle.

As you’d expect in a second book, relationships deepen while external circumstances get worse. Burke is a perfect comic-book villain who has managed to fool the entire city, or nearly. Our scrappy group of Extraordinaries are underdogs, out-weaponed, out-numbered, and still kids. It doesn’t matter; they’re a team, and they’ll keep fighting.

Flash Fire doesn’t stint on the moral and emotional questions, but it moves at a brisk pace and fills its pages with action and danger. Nick and Seth are closer than ever at the end, but they’ll confront bigger problems in Heat Wave, due out July 19, 2022.

Published in 2021. Through bravery, charm, and an alarming amount of enthusiasm, Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams. Now instead of just writing stories about him, Nick actually gets to kiss him. On the mouth. A lot. But having a superhero boyfriend isn’t everything Nick thought it would be―he’s still struggling to make peace with his own lack of extraordinary powers. When new Extraordinaries begin arriving in Nova City―siblings who can manipulate smoke and ice, a mysterious hero who can move objects with their mind, and a drag queen superhero with the best name and the most-sequined costume anyone has ever had―it’s up to Nick and his friends Seth, Gibby, and Jazz to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. And new Extraordinaries aren’t the only things coming to light. Long-held secrets and neglected truths are surfacing that challenge everything Nick knows about justice, family, and being extraordinary. Which is a lot to handle when Nick really just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic. Will it all come together in the end or will it all go down in flames?

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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