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Book Review: Powers by John B. Olson

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Powers has been widely described in press releases as the ‘highly-anticipated sequel to Shade”; this is clearly an understatement in my case. Having closed my review of the first novel in John Olson’s supernatural-suspense series with “Give us another one John!” at around this time last year, it’s been a long wait for a hoped for, but was at that time a yet unverified sequel. Releasing on December 1, 2009, Powers is Olson’s offering to a growing fan-base.

Clearly paralleling his first in the series, Olson spins a tale that could be seen as somewhat derivative of Shade. A gypsy-raised cast-off girl finds herself without a protector, her background of being raised to fulfill a role in the Standing putting her at an advantage to avoid spiritual predators, yet making life in the modern world in which she finds herself thrust rather incomprehensible. A musician finds himself plagued by troubling visions and immersion into a spiritual realm where he is completely untested. The two are drawn inexorably towards each other as Mariutza (Mari) seeks out the one who she knows as Jazzaniah the Prophet – he goes by Jazz.

Those who’ve already devoured Shade will find that Olson hasn’t invested much time into further world-development in Powers. We again find ourselves following the chaotic, jerky mental imagery interspersed with flight scenes that seems to typify the learning curve of one who newly discovers their status as one of the Standing. Rather than the storyline following Hailey’s new awakening and Melchi’s protective hand, the sequel instead follows Jazz’s abrupt immersion into the world of spirit, and Mari’s rather awkward attempts to shepherd him into it (severely hindered by his hero status in her eyes).

While repeat readers will find little new, excepting the addition of a new couple, new readers will be somewhat confused due to the lack of explanation concerning the ‘bad guys’ – the shimulo – and may be somewhat mystified by the appearance of Hailey and Melchi without the background details the first novel offers. Distinctly less scary than in Shade the shimulo, or Mulo, make their presence known most often in the realm of the extra-sensory.

The shimulo are not specifically characterized as in the first novel, and as such seem much less threatening. The vampiric/demonic threat is largely unexplored as a result, and seems to be expected as a previously assumed piece of knowledge on the part of the reader. This shift results in a focus more heavily centered on mystery, suspense, and puppy love than upon the supernatural.

After falling in love with Hailey and Melchi, I was disappointed to find their characters in a somewhat two-dimensional holding pattern in this novel. I was relieved to find them included, however, as it seemed like Olson might be spinning an entirely separate plot based in the same world from the book’s back cover blurbs. Mariutza certainly charmed me with her guileless, wide-eyed sense of wonder so incongruously paired with her street-fighting abilities, but nothing can top the sweet, unspoiled romance spun between the former couple in Shade. In all honesty, I didn’t like Jazz and still can’t understand how a sweet girl like Mari could fall for a self-centered cad like him. A planned comic book adaptation of the novel leaves me quite curious as to how my favorite characters will be depicted visually (Melchi in particular).

Lest this review turn entirely into an essay exploring how I much preferred Shade to its heir, there are some notable positives to be found in Powers. Olson’s handling of the faith aspects of the novel are handled with more dexterity in this novel, though the contrast between law and grace isn’t to be found within its pages. I also read Powers within a single day, attesting to its page-turning abilities and Olson’s effective pacing.

Olson certainly leaves the stage wide-open for another installment in the (as of yet) unnamed series, leaving readers with more questions than they had going in. What of Mari’s presumably voodoo-practicing mother? Can we get a better explanation on the building issue? With Powers having been nearly entirely devoted to the introduction of a new couple, I’m left wondering if Olson knows where he’s taking the series. I hope that his fans can expect more from any subsequent installments in the series.

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