The Lightning Project, Book 1
Capes are stupid.
Superheroes are just wishful thinking.
True love doesn’t exist.
I’m not a hero.
A seventeen-year-old hacker, a group of teenage superheroes and one hell of a family secret come together to form the perfect storm.
Are you ready to get struck?
“He told me you died. He told me…I thought you…”
Adam was scarily pale, the scars on his arms like stark silver chains across his perfect skin. He was trembling, I could feel it where our hands were still linked together.
Responsible, composed, smart Adam was looking at this guy who looked like a bargain basement version of himself, and he was shaking.
“Of course that’s what he told you,” Alex said, his chuckle laced with malice. “There’s no polite way to say your twin brother ran off and sold you out to the highest bidder without a care in the world.”
“Well thanks for that convenient explanation,” I interrupted, rolling my eyes as I pushed my way between Adam and Alex. “I’m sure getting the shitty end of the sibling stick left you with all sorts of fun emotional baggage, but why don’t you fuck off back to the storm drain you slithered out of and leave us alone?”
“Jones is right, you talk way too much,” he grinned, eyes tripping coldly down my body before flicking back up to my face.
Yeah, he definitely looked like he was dead inside.
“I want you to remember that when you start your evil villain monologue.”
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
The Lightning Project, Book 1
POV: 1st person, one character / 3rd person, multi-POV
Would I read it again?: Yes!
Genre: YA, MM, Superhero/Supervillain, Origin Story
Struck is the Marvel-worthy origin story where ‘The Runaways’ meets ‘Riverdale’. All the snark, sarcasm, awkward flirtations, and the reality of being an angry teen, wrapped up into a YA story that is all plot and substance and no filler. Oh, and a special cameo by Forever Fading Echoes, a band of Kinnaird’s creation that appear in her Keswick Chronicles novels. What’s not to love?
PRESENTATION AND POV
Between the cover and the inside chapter headings, the book is beautifully presented. The presentation compliments Kinnaird’s unique writing style, where she manages to blend 1st and 3rd in a way that is both readable and logical. I don’t think I’ve ever read another author who can seamlessly combine 1st person POV with 3rd, nor have a legitimate reason, and purpose, for doing so.
The MC of the novel is Ethan – a disillusioned, closeted, small town, hacker – who tells his story through the predominant POV of 1st person. But, we also get a glimpse of the POV’s of the two secondary characters, Adam and Esther. This is mostly because Ethan is about to enter a world that he’s unfamiliar with, and Adam and Esther will be there to provide context, and another side to the world that Ethan doesn’t yet understand. I loved that we got these glimpses, and that they were obviously different from Ethan’s POV by switching to 3rd. It made it easier to know who you were focusing on, rather than having to check a header for the POV label.
Kinnaird also avoids the major pitfalls of 1st person POV, that I see all too often – where you begin reading and it either takes 10% or an unbelievable self-reflection moment for us readers to discover the age, gender, name and appearance of the 1st person narrator. It’s easily done, because the options are to have someone else point them out, or to have the 1st person narrator drop them in unnaturally. Ethan’s natural snark and Kinnaird’s skill at storytelling make this process much more natural. Ethan’s “voice” is distinctly angsty teen-male, while taking less than 2% to cover his personality, looks, age, gender, and giving us forewarning about who we’re going to be following through the story with one of my favourite quotes:
“Having a mouth faster than my reflexes got me in all sorts of trouble.”
This is a YA novel, but it doesn’t hide behind a PG13 rating. The majority of the cast are 17-18 years old, and they act like it. The characters are realistic and logical, they behave like teenagers, talk like teenagers, and react like other teenagers world, even when their world is limited to a bubble of one building. They realistically navigate that uncertain place between teenagers and adults with surprising grace, considering all they’ve encountered and been put through.
The world building is brilliant. It begins with a normal small town, in a contemporary world setting, and then the superhero/world-building aspects are slowly leaked into the story through Ethan’s observations, and then from Adam and Esther’s experiences. Once Ethan is Struck – a term used to describe someone put through a scientific experiment, where they’re struck by a controlled level of electricity that creates a genetic superpower – he enters a world that is familiar but new, both to him and to the reader. Blending the often co-existing genres of Science Fiction and Comic Books, the world of Struck begins to take shape. After being Struck, Ethan is taken to a secret government facility, everyone believes he’s dead, his old life is gone, and he’s warned that being Struck will lead to superpowers.
Thus, the origin story begins. And I loved every minute of it.
The plot follows a nice pace throughout, starting with Ethan’s everyday life, drifting through his life as a small-town, closeted teen with issues, and then leads him into a place where he can be himself and start over. Where the members of his new team from The Lightning Project are just as unique as he is. Adam, the leader of the group, openly gay, smart and mature; K, non-binary and kick-ass; Tomas, a bit of a male slut and dreamer; Esther, the smart, sassy woman-of-colour that puts everyone in their place; Sierra, the cheeky, melodramatic one; and finally Laurel, the quiet and unassuming one who stays in the background but does her part.
Instead of avoiding the stereotypes or noting a person’s struggle but not challenging it, Kinnaird faces them head on. Ethan is self-aware enough to be mouthy and get away with saying things that most others would think twice about, and Kinnaird uses that to her advantage. Ethan admits to being ignorant about non-binary pronouns and how to speak to K without being insulting; he has frank discussions with Esther about her struggles as a woman-of-colour and how she deals with having to fight twice as hard for her dreams.
Ethan is aware of expectations put on him by the world, admitting to them when discussing being in the closet, being a small town gay kid, even when Esther precedes him into a place of danger, offering another one of my favourite quotes to challenge the expected/ingrained misogyny that can be so prevalent in novels, even within the MM genre:
“I did have a moment of “hey, shouldn’t I be in the front instead of hiding behind a girl?” but then I remembered that I’m blessedly free of toxic masculinity and I have no problem letting Esther take the lead, especially because she could successfully defend us both in a fight while the sight of blood makes me feel dizzy.”
And yet, the story manages to do all of this without becoming lecturing or political. The novel is primarily an origin story – about how Ethan deals with becoming a teenager with superpowers, and how that changes his life. Woven throughout are the political, social and gender issues that most teens deal with as they progress into adulthood, especially if they fall anywhere outside of the white, straight, cis roadmap. These kids come together as angry misfits, but find a family with each other, and that becomes – at least, in my eyes – the secondary plot of the novel. Thirdly, we have the romance between Ethan and Adam. Two kids who have issues, baggage, and yet find something in each other that they can’t find anywhere else.
When it comes to characters, there are a few that are noteworthy: Ethan, our MC; Adam, Esther, K, Tomas, Laurel and Sierra, who make up The Project team; and Jones, the Mary Poppins-esque babysitter and bodyguard. These are the mainstay characters of the novel. Then we also have the extras, who have a bearing on the novel, but who don’t have as many on-page scenes; Alex, Dr and Mrs Harrison, and Ethan’s parents. They all have a part to play, but I won’t tell you what that is, because certain characters are spoiler-worthy.
I love Ethan as an MC. He starts off as the disillusioned hacker with a chip on his shoulder, using snark and sarcasm to get by, using the closeted school jock for some fooling around, and hiding from a world that has let him down and is full of hypocrisy. He’s your typical teenager in mostly every other way, until he is Struck, then he begins to grow into someone with more maturity and awareness of not only himself but everyone around him, too.
For the most part, Ethan and Adam are the main characters, while Esther, and later K, providing the most on-page characterisation. The POV is split between Ethan, Adam and Esther; each offer their POV at one point or another, and each have a heavier bearing on the plot than some of the other characters. Yet, each character is a unique individual, who is allowed their own self-expression, their own moment to shine, and no one becomes a token member of the team. They’re all equal, and Ethan learns an important lesson about himself, or life, or the project, from each member he meets.
Despite the unique plot and the life-changing situation, Ethan has a normal, rational, and realistic reaction, that any other person on the planet would, after being Struck and becoming a superhero, while also adapting to a life changing event with the adequate level of snark, anger, rebellion and bargaining. It’s over time that he begins to see the bigger picture. Like any teenager who resists change but is forced to adapt and change to a world that won’t let go, Ethan begins to mature and change his thinking.
He’s an intellectual, the smart-mouth entertainment, and a planner; throughout the entire book, he remains consistent. Despite the superpowers that he ends up with, he never truly accepts them, or himself, as he struggles through this new world. He resists, and fights back, and rebels at every opportunity, as you would expect of his character. But, when the tough choices need to be made, he’s the one to jump right in, despite his misgivings, and be the one brave enough to say “something needs to be done”. But, at no point does he become someone unrecognisable, either. I loved that Ethan stayed true to his personality the whole way through. He’s no fighter, he can’t stand the sight of blood, and his skills are limited to hacking and sarcasm. He uses what he’s got, and learns a few neat tricks when he has to, but he doesn’t become the crime-fighting hero, kicking ass and taking names. In fact, more than once, he becomes the one who needs to be saved, the one that would be the damsel-in-distress, if there was any hint of misogyny in the novel. Which there isn’t.
Adam is the kickass, all-hero all-the-time, character. Yet, he’s also gentle, caring, mature, and he puts others first. He’s full of compassion, a little shy, and has all the makings of a smart but geeky teenager, yet is the ultimate superhero. Esther is the mother-hen of the group, strong and smart and sassy, while keeping everyone accountable for their actions. K is the deceptively quiet one, who is thinking and contemplative when quiet, but not afraid to challenge anyone if they need it. Tomas is a lover not a fighter, the one with the big personality and a big mouth, the teasing and flirty one of the group. While Sierra teases and snarks back at Tomas and Ethan equally, she and Laurel are the quietest of the group. Together, they form a whole gamut of realistic teenage traits that takes me straight back to high school, where I was the openly-gobby-one, who was secretly introverted. Ah, the good old days.
They’re also realistically teenagers when it comes to the sexy stuff, too. Right from the start, Ethan implies a almost-or-actual sexual relationship with the jock at his school, then later suggested that he’s got experience of some kind, though it’s never explicit or in-your-face. Later, it’s implied that Tomas is the reason that Jones had to give them the ‘safe sex’ talk, and that he’s been known to have a few flings in the past. It’s all out in the open, but not made into a big deal, just as it should be.
Yet, they all have their own unique way of dealing with things. Some act their age, some are your typical teenage-boy who thinks he’s more mature than he really is, and some are just not interested. Like most teenagers. Tomas is a self-confessed ‘love-em-and-leave-em’ kind of guy. Sierra and Esther are the gag and giggle kind of girls, whenever sex comes up, while Laurel and K just roll their eyes. Ethan is his unabashedly unashamed self, making sex jokes, innuendos and teasing Adam and Esther mercilessly for their shyness towards talking about sex. Adam blushes and can’t say the word ‘sex’ without stumbling.
They all have their unique quirks, and they all make each character more real for it. Just as the reality of Adam and Ethan eventually having sex with each other. It’s not explicit. Body parts are limits to chest and sides. Kinnaird promotes safe sex with the mention of a condom, as well as Esther demanding to know they were safe about it, after. And, though it’s sort-of fade-to-black, with mostly Ethan’s thoughts covering the actual moment, it fitted perfectly with the characters, their personalities, and it felt important. It was a huge moment for them, and I would have felt like something was missing if it hadn’t been included.
These kids are real and smart. Some are mature, some are immature *coughEthancough* and some of them are just your regular 17-18 year old’s who want nothing more than to hang out, watch Netflix, and eat popcorn. They swear, they talk about sex, some of them actually have sex (off-page for the most part) just like some teenagers do. None of that detracts from or distracts from the main plot. The reality of teen lives and behaviour is woven into the characterisation of each of the team members, just as easily as their gender, identity, sexuality, and age are.
This is a story of growth, maturity, compassion, family and friendship. It starts off being about a jaded, lonely, closeted kid from a small town, and ends up being about a group of teenagers who have become a family, fighting for what they believe in, and trying to find their place in a world that doesn’t always understand or accept them.
It’s your Stan Lee, Marvel-comics origin story for LGBT, POC teenagers who have been discarded or ignored by society until now, but who have come together to begin an amazing new life, with incredible new powers. A Big Hero 6 of family, friendship and loyalty. While being totally unique, with clever plotting, just the right amount of snark, and with a host of characters who don’t always disagree but will always be there for each other, no matter what.
The skill of Kinnaird’s writing sucks you into the story from page one, and leaves you ending the book with an intriguing glimpse of what may lie ahead in future novels, while feeling wholly satisfied by the complete storyline that just came to an end.
“All that knowledge, all that power, and we were still a couple of kids lying in an unmade bed, hundreds of miles from home, mourning the loss of a life we’d spent every day fighting to escape from. It’s funny, isn’t it, how fate makes a mockery of us all?”
Victoria Kinnaird lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2009 with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Journalism, Creative Writing and English Lit. Victoria has been writing since she was 15 years old.
Victoria’s debut novel “The Red Sun Rises” was released in September 2013 by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing. The groundbreaking novel, which was praised for featuring an all male teen love triangle, became an Amazon international bestseller on release day. The couple at the heart of the story, Eren and Corbijn, were nominated for the Young Adult and Teen Reader’s Book Couple of the Year award in 2013 and were the only gay couple to be featured.
“The Red Sun Rises” was the first book in The Red Sun Rises Trilogy. The second book in the series, “The Red Sun Rises: Fire and Ash” was released in March 2014.
The third book in the series, “The Red Sun Rises: Seven Letters” was released by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing in March 2015. It would go on to hit #1 on Amazon UK’s LGBT YA chart and #6 on Amazon US’ LGBT YA chart. “The Red Sun Rises”, the first book in the series, also made the transition to audio in 2015.
“The Red Sun Rises Series” boxset was released in September 2016 and featured the first three novels in the series, along with five short stories and exclusive character artwork. In 2017, Eren Anderson and Corbijn Cohen won the fan voted Most Loveable Couple” Award at Chapter Con.
Following the success of “The Red Sun Rises Series”, Victoria released “Fake It”, a YA LGBT rock’n’roll romance. “Fake It” is the first book in “The Keswick Chronicles”. “Fake It” earned comparisons to The Breakfast Club, and was a judge selected finalist in the 2016 Rainbow Awards.
Victoria is continuing to work on “The Keswick Chronicles”, alongside her forthcoming LGBT YA superhero series “The Lightning Project” and a second three novel arc for “The Red Sun Rises Series.”