The first book in a superhero series set in the 1950s US.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 487

The story starts in 1947 when Alice Seymour is 10. She lives with her mom and her abusive father. He’s a former soldier and apparently had traumatic experiences in a war and that’s why he beats his wife. Alice is afraid of him and spends as little time at home as possible. She hangs out with her best friends, Lionel and Marco. They all three also run away from the local bullies. One day, all changes. Alice’s mom is killed in a shoot-out at the diner where she works. Alice’s afraid to go home and instead spends the day with Marco’s family. When her father finally gets her home, he’s furious and starts to beat her. But suddenly, there are voices from nowhere. Then two people, young boys, burst in. One of them has shadows around him. They are able to beat Alice’s father and scare him so much that her father runs away.

Alice’s mother’s sister, Aunt Diana, and her husband Logan take Alice to their home. Alice’s mother didn’t approve of Diana’s lifestyle as a business woman and so Alice doesn’t know Diana. However, aunt Diana and uncle Logan love her and give her a real home where she can read as much as she wants and she’s even able to go to college.

When Alice is 21, in 1959, she’s just graduated with a business degree. Diana owns Atlas bookstore and she also runs various charities. When Aunt Diana is brutally murdered, Alice wants to get to bottom of why and who. She finds out more than she thought possible.

This is the origin story of the Serpent, a costumed vigilante who doesn’t have powers. However, Alice is a trained martial artist and has very durable costume and tranquillizer darts which she calls Serpent’s Bite. She started to train as a martial artist almost as soon as she moved to her aunt’s place because her aunt was a martial arts instructor and Alice never wants to be helpless again. But she gets the costume and advice from another person who used to be a superhero and is now advising Alice.

Alice is a very determined and passionate person. When she comes to live with Diana, she’s determined never to be as helpless as she was in front of her father, and so she starts to train. She’s fierce and wants to protect people. She’s also frustrated by the limits that the society around her put on (wealthy) women. Most girls want to get married and become housewives, and Alice scorns them.

She quickly gets a team around herself. American Steel is stronger and more durable than humans. His partner Shadow Master is able to hear people’s feelings and affect them. They are working as local vigilantes before Alice becomes a hero but later agree to work with her. Also, non-vigilante people help them.

The three of them take down local thugs but also the local drug trade which turns out to be a lot more dangerous than they thought at first. In classic comics style, super powers are given a pseudo-scientific explanation, but of course they’re not really possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It a lot of superhero elements and they’re used wonderfully. Because it’s set in the past, it also explores elements of racism and sexism; one of Alice’s friends, Rose, is a black woman and despite the fact that she’s brilliant, she’s not allowed to go to college. Also, Alice’s past isn’t just backstory; it comes to haunt her.

The book had pretty much only one element which I didn’t care for: the love/attraction triangle between Alice and the two male heroes. She’s oblivious to their attraction to her and encourages both of them. The men are best friends but are jealous about Alice. They start out as quite protective of her but end up more or less accepting her into the team.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.