The second book in the superhero/science fiction series Icarus Project.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 414
Publisher: Ballantine Spectre

The book has been divided into three sections: Now, Then, and Interlude.

Now: The previous book, Black and White, ended in a world changing event. Corp-Co is a huge company who has sponsored all of the extrahuman heroes in the world so far. Corp-Co also owns the Academy which trains new heroes and the houses where the heroes live in. However, at the end of the last book, we found out that Corp-Co was also mentally controlling the heroes, the Squadron. At the end of Black and White, that mental control ended. In consequence, many of the former heroes went either insane (called rabid) or simply left (called going rogue).

Only a handful of heroes are still in their right mind and six of them are still trying to protect the people of New Chicago: Jet, Hornblower, Meteorite, Frostbite, Steele, and Firebug. Because most of the former heroes have lost their minds and turned against the citizens, most of the people have turned their backs to all of the extrahumans. The six remaining heroes have to have a secret headquarters and endure insults from the normal humans and they don’t have any help or back up. Still, they are determined to do their jobs. Indeed, they have their hands full with their former team mates. Then, normal people and rabids start to fall under a spell: they just stop doing anything and their eyes are milky white. Jet and her team mates fear that a legendary villain has returned: Doctor Hypnotic, a former hero and the strongest mental power ever. Twenty years ago, it took the most powerful heroes of New Chicago to take him down. How can this ragtag band defeat him?

Meanwhile, the rogue Iridium realizes that her chance has come. Her father has been sitting in a maximum security prison for a couple of decades and now Iridium has a chance to get him out. Lester Bradford used to be a Squadron hero called Luster until he turned against Corp-Co and became a rogue extrahuman called Archlight. However, Lester isn’t leaving alone. He wants Iridium to break out a group of other villains, too. Reluctantly, Iridium agrees. But getting them out isn’t so easy. Corp-Co’s flunky surprises Iridium and offers a deal: the group will get a full pardon if they will work for Corp-Co again, secretly.

In the Interlude part, Garth McFarlane wants to join the fight against the rabids. He and some of his friends are part of the Latent Network; they are technically extrahumans but their powers are so minor that Corp-Co hasn’t bothered to train them as heroes. Garth has the power to see in the dark. However, his friends are reluctant to risk their lives against full-powered former heroes.

In the Then part, we follow Jet’s and Iridium’s parents when they were heroes together in the Squadron. The villain in the previous book also gets a point-of-view.

Even though there is a lot going on in the book and several POV characters and time lines, Shades of Gray work well. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first book. The POV characters are distinct from each other and are all needed to tell the story. As in the first book, the media has a huge presence in the world; they affect how the people see the extrahumans and how the extrahumans are treated. In the Then part, the heroes are also celebrities and are sponsored by various products. The heroes also have to do product endorsement and photo shoots. Their looks influence their chance of getting into teams, as much as if not more than their powers. They have to know how to handle the media. This contracts strongly with the Now part where the few heroes are essentially outcasts and loathed by the mayor and the police.

Iridium looks up to her father, even though he’s been in prison for along time. Now, she has to work with him and she realizes that Lester isn’t necessarily a nice person. Meanwhile, Jet tries to keep her small band together. Most of them are still under Corp-Co brainwashing and are incabable of even saying anything against the company. Others want to expose Corp-Co right now. However, they all agree that the rabids have to be contained right now. Also, Jet has to deal with the romantic interest from the previous book and she also has a personal connection to Doctor Hypnotic. This all felt almost like it could have been an Avengers story arch, except with different characters and more active female characters.