Plot/Idea: This brisk plot follows the Super siblings, all of whom possess their own superpower, with the exception of 16-year-old Hanna—who, despite her fervent desire to be like the rest of her siblings, has never manifested any extraordinary abilities.
Prose: Powerless takes place in a world of superhuman feats, where certain people with a triggered gene mutation are gifted unique powers that set them apart from others. Pretty builds a convincing system, complete with cutting edge science, phenomenal exploits, and a sharp betrayal that ratchets up the story’s edginess.
Originality: This is an entertaining and distinctive novel, and Pretty goes to great lengths to endow its characters with singular abilities that will wow readers. There is some familiarity in the idea of superheroes being ostracized for their special talents, but the addition of the cryptic Brotherhood to the plot adds suspense and depth.
Character/Execution: Hanna is a richly developed character with surprising interiority. Her struggles are relatable, as she tries to find her place in her family and the world at large, and Pretty ties in Hanna’s fight to fit in with discovering her true purpose in the end. Supporting characters match the story’s premise.
Date Submitted: August 24, 2023
A 16-year-old from a family of superpowered people finds herself on the outs when she fails to develop powers of her own in Pretty’s YA SF novel.
Hanna Super is an anomaly in her appropriately named family. Her deceased mother, two sisters, and two brothers all developed superpowers by the time they were 16, her current age. Her powerlessness means she is left out of, among other things, her family’s vigilante activities. Her older sister, Maria, can control fire. Her brother Toomas has superstrength, and her other brother, Maksim, has the ability to transfer pain from his own (usually self-inflicted) injuries to someone else. Finally, her youngest sister, Marleen, can dissolve anything she touches. Struggling to find her place, Hanna devotes her time to studying the gene that causes the development of powers, discovered by her wealthy scientist father, Artem Super—whose approval she strongly desires. After a lab accident, however, Hanna is cast out of her father’s home. Alone for the first time, she stumbles into an alliance with the mysterious Brotherhood, the group positioned as Artem’s antagonistic rival. The author effectively builds the story’s world (it’s set in an alternate version of Sudovia, an independent former member nation of the Soviet Union) through the natural-feeling incorporation of details via conversations or flashbacks. One particularly clever instance occurs in a flashback to Hanna and Maria’s childhood games involving maps of Kakslinna: (“Maria’s favorite map was the most recent one, where she’d drawn little, red Xs for where to find the best mini pancakes, cinnamon pastries, and cherry pies”); Pretty uses the scene not only to provide depth to the sisters’ relationship, but also to unobtrusively convey details about the history and geography of the setting. Ultimately, the author delivers an exciting superhero story with series potential.
A strong superhero yarn for fans of the X-Men and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.