Rise of the Aces, by C.J. Williams

AcesCoverIf you’re a fan of the X-Men or of the television show Heroes (the first season, anyway), then allow me to introduce you to a new set of people with mutant and/or superhero powers. I had the pleasure of being an early reader for the intriguing sci-fi/fantasy novel by debut author C.J. Williams, and let me tell you how much of a fun ride would be.

Like the other two series I mentioned, a portion of the world’s population wake up one day to find they each have a unique special power. Naturally, the government requires that these people—called Aces in the world of the book—must register so it’s documented what they can do. You don’t want superheroes (or supervillains) walking around using their powers unchecked.

Main character Lucas Decker has not registered—not because he has any nefarious plan in mind, but because he doesn’t want to be hassled, and he definitely doesn’t want the authorities breathing down his neck. He’s got a pretty cool ability: he can create transparent barriers in different shapes and sizes, even encase objects within them.

Shortly thereafter, Lucas finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and another Ace gets killed near him. In the world of Williams’s novel, when an Ace dies, their power and some of their memories transfer to the nearest Ace. Yup, you guessed it. That happens to be Lucas. I love stories that start out with a more or less average person being thrust into a situation that they didn’t want to be in. As one of Pixar’s rules of storytelling says, “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” No cheating going on her, and what develops is an intense, fun, twisty-turny ride through the rest of the plot.

Now Lucas finds himself in deep trouble. He’s outed as an Ace, pursued by government officials, recruited by one group of Aces who are trying to infiltrate another group of Aces. I won’t spoil it by saying which members of which group are allies or enemies because this type of story requires there to be double-crossing. And it’s fun experiencing those moments as the plot barrels along.

What I liked most about this book is that despite the fantastic situation which has been played out in previous novels, comics, and movies, the characters seem quite realistic and believable. As character motivations and the underlying threat are revealed, every plot development and character action makes sense. This is a tautly plotted book, which builds to some unexpected revelations by the end, particularly when a big why concerning the entire book is explained. All I can say is WOW, that’s something I’d have never seen coming, and I love it.

With the comic book inspirations, there’s obviously some witty banter between characters, and Williams is a master at dropping pop-culture references from the characters’ (and my) youth. But in the final act of the story, the book takes an unexpected and abrupt shift in tone, almost toward horror. As much as it made sense given the parameters of the world, it was jarring when it happened. It raised the stakes for the characters well enough, but it was a sequence of several chapters that had my head scratching for a bit.

However, the payoff is absolutely worth it! Some of the final revelations really indicate that the sequel will be quite a trip, and I can’t wait for the next part of Aces to arise.

Williams is a new author with serious potential. There are great characters, great dialogue, great plot twists and developments, and a great ending. The only reasons I’m not giving it the full five stars is because of the slight detour into horror slowing things down for maybe a chapter, and because I want to allow (with star proof) for the possibility that the next part will up the ante and be even better. The stakes are there, but for now, C.J. Williams is on the rise as an author, and Rise of the Aces is clearly an ace in my eyes at FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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Rise of the Aces is available on Amazon.

Read the author spotlight of C.J. Williams here.

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