Reformed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project by H. L. Burke

Once a villain, always a villain?

Optimistic and idealistic superhero Prism is determined to redeem her father’s legacy by rebooting his supervillain rehabilitation program. To do so, she sets her sights on Fade, the relapsed supervillain who was the reason the government canceled the original program in the first place. However, when she petitions for Fade to be released into her custody, she finds out things might not be as simple as she thought.

Convicted of an unforgivable crime, Fade received a choice: surrender to trial and possible execution or endure a memory erasure so he could start fresh. Now with no recollection of his time before incarceration, Fade doubts he has the ability to be anything but the villain the public believes him to be.

A series of attacks by a mysterious power-swapping villain points back to Fade’s past and the crime that cost him his freedom and memory. With her father’s legacy and her own reputation on the line, even Prism has to wonder: can a villain truly be reformed?

Diane Andersen’s Review: 4-Stars

Let me say first, I am not a fan of superhero comics or novels. I can appreciate them when there is an underlying good story or interesting characters to follow and I am always willing to give any story a fair shot. In the case of Reformed: Superhero Rehabilitation Project, it was the unique idea of reforming a superhero villain, something completely unorthodox, given the static nature of the characterizations in these types of genre. We absolutely want our superheroes to be noble and heroic and our villains to be super bad and irredeemable. We love it when they come to a bad end and get what they deserve, perhaps because real life just doesn’t always work out that way. That is the perennial appeal of superhero stories.

Here was a unique twist where the story starts off with a villain, named Fade, in custody and a heroine, known by the code name, Prism, bent on finding out why he went bad and looking for a possibility to reform his ways. Initially, the story intrigued me and kept me turning pages, despite a lack of fluid descriptions and odd names that are actually nouns in themselves (i.e. Prism, Fade, etc) Perhaps if I were more ingrained in this genre and read more comic books or graphic novels, I would be able to visualize the superhero antics and “powers” easily and keep names straight with an increasingly list of character names dropped without much description to go on.

However, in any genre, it always helps to set things up carefully enough that any reader picking it off the shelf can readily fall into the scenes. This was not always the case here. I backtracked frequently to make sure I understood who was talking, who was even who, based on names that changed and a host of characters again, with code names from common words while also keeping track of their real names and relationships. I really wanted to feel every moment of this book and by the middle, it just started to drag and was not really building to anything significant, just a lot of rehashing past events and dissecting police procedurals with a superhero spin.

Granted, this is book 1 in a series so perhaps it is intended to spread the intrigue and be a slow burn over the length of several books. For those who are fans of this genre, I would recommend reading this series. The author is very good at her craft but I enjoyed her steampunk series much more. Maybe I am just not the target audience for this series and others are. It is definitely worth a look.

Corinne Morier’s Review: 4.5-Stars

Reformed by HL Burke Genre: Adult urban fantasy/superheroes My connection to this book: I belong to The Naked Reviewers and this was one of our August picks. Burke is one of my favorite authors, though I was not initially interested in reading this one–I’m not very interested in superhero stories and so decided that I would read through more of her backlist of straightforward fantasy books first and see if superheroes were something I became interested in later on. But then I ended up beta reading Relapsed: A Supervillain Rehabilitation Short, which is a short story tie-in to this book (I just recently learned that it’s a prequel to this series, showing Fade five years before the events of this story) and ended up enjoying that one a lot. I know I always enjoy Burke’s writing style and so far, all of her books have been either four or five stars for me, so I decided to push myself a bit and read something I don’t usually pick up.
My rating: 4/5 stars

As always, this review is my own personal opinion and I’m coming at this from someone whose only previous experience with superhero stories was watching the Teen Titans and X-Men Evolution cartoons as a kid, and then of course, watching The Incredibles movies later on as an adult.

What didn’t I like about this book?
As always, I will discuss three things I enjoyed and three things I did not enjoy, alternating bad-good-bad-good-bad-good so that you can make your own decision about whether or not to read this book! Let’s start with…

I Liked Her Other Stuff Better

Allow me to quote from another review I wrote, in which I said

Like I said above, I’ve read quite a few of Burke’s other books before this one and thoroughly enjoyed her writing style. But this one, it just felt less… polished, I guess you could say. My editor brain kept wanting to rewrite sentences and rearrange the order of scenes, and oooh, the echo words, my number one pet peeve. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of echo words, an echo word is basically an instance of repeating a word in the same sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, etc. Like using “hesitated” and then saying a character “hesitated” again two pages later. Or if a character “squinted” and then two paragraphs later, another character “squint”s. It just felt more rushed and unpolished than Burke’s earlier works, which didn’t suffer from these same problems.

Something I enjoyed

Shipper On Deck

As can be expected from Burke, I was a big fan of the romance. The main couple is probably the one you’re predicting to happen, but for the sake of just-in-case spoilers, I won’t say any names. And it was kind of my favorite way for romance to develop in a story: two people thrown together because of outside circumstances/another person deciding that this will be the person’s new coworker/classmate/housemate/etc., who then learn to love and appreciate one another and they grow from reluctant colleagues to friends to awkward friends to maybe-more-than-friends to “oh, lol, we like each other, who knew?” It was just so cute, and the two romantic leads just seem made for each other–they would literally die for each other, they work well together, and they have their differences but can work past them and just be a great couple together.

Switching back to something I didn’t enjoy as much…

Plot Conveniences

A lot of times, the story would progress not because of the heroes using their smarts or because of allies of the heroes lending them the use of their powers, but because of what seemed like contrived coincidences solving problems for the heroes.

For example, one of the characters in this book is named Bob, codename Keeper, who, for about 150 pages, has no actual role in the story. I was reading this book and every time Bob/Keeper was mentioned, I would shake my phone and shout “NO ONE WANTS YOU YOU’RE POINTLESS!!” He’s an older guy who’s been with Prism’s team for years, and when Prism and her team find themselves facing up against a new villain named Mymic, they can’t figure out which of their bosses they can trust anymore or what Mymic’s true intentions are. But Keeper just so happens to have a friend who runs a bubble tea shop who has all the resources the heroes need to accomplish their goals: an underground network of spies who gather intel on the various people of DOSA, years of research into peoples of interest, and gadgets that are just as technologically advanced as the ones produced by a large government agency (again, this guy runs a teeny-tiny bubble tea shop and has no affiliation with the government)!

Or at the climax of the story when Fade and Prism are trapped inside the team’s headquarters and all looks bleak, until another team of superheroes arrives to help them evacuate. And it just so happens that one of them, a guy named Porter, has just the powers they need to prevent a dangerous lethal gas from killing everyone within a ten-mile radius! It’d be one thing if we’d met Porter earlier in the story, or if Prism and her teammates already were acquainted with the bubble tea guy and frequently worked with him on their missions. But with the way these aspects of the story were set up, it just read as contrived deus ex machina events, rather than a logical progression of story elements.

Let’s go back to talking about something a bit more positive…

Laugh out loud humor

Again, as expected of Burke: the humor in this book was laugh-out-loud funny. Let’s examine a few of my favorite quotes that made me have to stop reading so I could finish laughing.

Tanvi stomped in. With her mouth a grim line but her eyes twinkling, she marched up to Fade and tossed a sock on the table in front of him. He glanced at it, then at her, then tilted his head to one side. “Am I a free elf now or something?”

Fifth floor, door with the…” she choked, “Door with The Princess Bride poster on it.”

(note: this is only funny if you know Burke personally, but I do, and I know for a fact that she’s a huge Princess Bride fan, so this is hilarious to me)

The gentle hum of his powers diffused into her skin. His breath warmed her. His arms kept her (Prism) standing against the pummeling of her own grief.

Cody sidled up to them. “Now kiss,” he said.

It’s even funnier because right after this, Prism b*tchslaps him with her powers. xD

Last not-so-good thing…

Hard Going At the Start

It took me quite a bit of time and effort to get into this book for two reasons.

The first is because I read Relapsed, the tie-in short story, before this. I was mistaken in thinking that Relapsed took place after this book, showing a “far future” when Fade was doing successful work for DOSA, until I started reading and was confused as to why Fade was back in jail. Then I learned that Relapsed takes place before this book, at which point I was very disillusioned; to me, Fade was almost a hero in the short story, and I had high hopes for him, especially at the end of the short when he and his mentor Allay have a heart-to-heart and Allay allays (pun totally intended) some of Fade’s fears. So to have Fade back in jail, accused of killing so many people, it was just very disconcerting for me. Of course, if you go into this book without having first read the short story, you probably won’t encounter this problem.

The second reason I had trouble getting into this story was because there was a three-month time skip between Chapter Seven and Chapter Eight. In Chapter Seven, Fade has just joined Prism’s team but because of the voluntary mind-wipe procedure he voluntarily underwent as a part of his reform, he doesn’t even know if he likes sushi, and he doesn’t know if other people will be accepting of him, a former criminal, being out and about in public. But then instead of his first public outing to get sushi, we skip three months and he’s just like “yeah, now I’m part of Prism’s team, sushi is long finished.” We don’t even get to see the reactions of the normies to him being in public, which up until this point in the story, was written as if it were a very important issue. Yes, the time skip ended up being very necessary, mostly for the development of the romance, but I felt like we needed to see that “first public outing” that Fade takes and then skip ahead three months.

Lastly, let’s discuss one more thing I enjoyed about this book…

Deep, Thematic Issues To Make You Think

I will freely admit that though I did watch several aforementioned superhero shows growing up, once I lost interest in those TV series, I stopped actively reaching for superhero stories in general. Even when I watched The Incredibles, it was more because I was trying to watch every single Disney/Pixar movie and that one was next on my list, rather than any organic interest in superheroes. But here, Burke explores so many deep themes, like morality, responsibility, humanity, and faith that you can’t help but appreciate it.

Particularly poignant is Fade’s doubts about how he can’t remember the crimes he committed, so how much hero work does he have to do before the amount of good he’s contributed outweighs his previous bad acts. Normies (humans without powers) have prejudices against sables (super-ableds) because they’re not fully human. Burke also explores a superhero’s moral responsibility to do no harm–admittedly, kind of cliche for a story like this, but appreciated nonetheless. Lately, I’ve really had trouble picking up “fun” books, and my collection of fairy tale retellings, lighthearted fantasy books about princesses kissing frogs, and girls turning into ogres has lost my interest.

Now I only want to read “important” books, because the world is so grim and hopeless anyway that I may as well learn as much as I can about as many subjects as I can before the apocalypse hits. xD

Reformed hits just the right balance of “serious” and “funny” to fit my needs in this trying time–it takes itself seriously and explores deep themes that make you think but also doesn’t hesitate to throw in a laugh or two along the way.

In conclusion
Reformed by HL Burke gets 4/5 stars from me for:

Thumbs up — The amazing romance

Thumbs up — The perfect comedic timing of the humor

Thumbs up — The exploration of moralistic themes that make this more than just a laugh fest

Thumbs down — The writing was weaker than what I know she can produce

Thumbs down — Some contrived characters and plot conveniences cheapen the reading experience

Thumb down — Difficult to get into the story and the time skip felt like it came in too soon

Please feel free to share your review in the comments.

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