Flash Fire by T.J. Klune
2021’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.
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.