In Shirin Dubbin‘s To the 5th Power, Zola, formerly known as superhero Watcher, must face three villainous fans while coming to terms with her own psychological trauma and regret. Three years earlier, Zola had retreated from superhero life after witnessing the brutal murder of her sidekick. Though emotionally broken and vulnerable, she’s forced to face three supervillains while simultaneously battling her feelings for her mega-natural psychologist, Dr. Forte’. Can she face down the evildoers while confronting her own inner darkness?
This book was a lot of fun, and I honestly didn’t realize it was a romance until after I’d finished reading. Zola’s bravado belies her inner turmoil and vulnerability. She puts on a brave face and pummels the villains she comes across, though all along she pushes her emotions inside and can’t decide if she trusts her former psychologist, Fort aka Dr. Forte’.
As events unfold and she learns more about Fort, she can’t decide if he is friend or foe. He’s obviously keeping secrets, but superheros and mega-naturals usually do. However, when the secrets revolve around the three escaped lunatics from the mega-natural insane asylum, Archesis, can she really trust the man who tried to cure her?
Strong female characters are the norm in this world. Zola herself, while emotionally traumatized, still holds her own intellectually and strategically with other mega-naturals. She’s a strong, dynamic person, and her contemporaries show the same depth and fortitude
The Society of Superheroes, a group of mega-naturals devoted to helping humanity, supplies a host of entertaining characters for readers to enjoy. Justice, Thrall, Quickstep, and others form an interesting support group for the traumatized Zola, and even Fort, while not a superhero, has mega-natural empathic powers.
The villains Zola faces, while powerful adversaries, also force her to confront issues she’d rather leave buried. Anx – a teenage girl with tentacles and other issues, Maquette – a broken youngster with telekinetic powers, and Knightfall – a “master strategist” and warrior are all fixated on the former hero, despite her supposedly secret identity. They confront her when she least expects it, though between flashes from her past and her conflicting emotions about Fort, they compete heavily for her attention.
Everything about this story was engrossing: the characters, the action, the danger, and the romance. There was one intense sex scene between consenting adults, but otherwise the novel focuses on battles both physical and mental. The romance is a bonus. Superhero fans are sure to enjoy Zola’s world, both in this novel and in sequels to come.