Black And White by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge (book review).

March 8, 2016 | By | Reply More

In theory ‘Black And White’ should be a very good book as it’s written by two accomplished authors, Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge, and involves comicbook heroes and villains. There’s also the general presentation and format of the book which is novel (no pun intended). Unfortunately, theory once again breaks down in practice. Before describing where it breaks down lets describe the actual book.

BlackAndWhite

The whole idea of two opposites runs throughout this book. There is a good character and a bad character, there are two stories. One ‘now’ when the action is happening and one ‘then’ which provides the back story. There are normal average people and there are extrahumans who have special powers. ‘Black And White’ is about two extra-human characters, Jet and Iridium. They are extra-human because Jet has the power of shadows and Iridium has the power of light. Both girls are enrolled into CORP-CO’s Academy along with all the other wannabe super-heroes.

CORP-CO is the organisation which appears to be responsible for the emergence of extrahumans but it is very much in the background in this book. While CORP-CO benefits financially from the extrahumans who it teaches at its Academy to be good super-heroes for the world, not everyone in the general population welcomes the super-heroes. The Everyman Society is the most outspoken and violent of the opposition groups opposing extrahumans. One touch I really liked was that the extrahumans have to win sponsorships to enable them to become frontline heroes. After all, this is the USA and someone has to pay for it.

Chapter 1 is titled ‘Iridium’ and starts with Iridium in the middle of a bank robbery when she’s rudely interrupted by one of CORP-CO’s newly trained heroes. It seems Iridium has gone bad or ‘rabid’ as they like to say down at the Academy. Even so, she makes quick work of the hero before escaping with the loot.

Chapter 2 is titled ‘Jet’ which sort of sets a pattern for the rest of the book. Each chapter is titled after the main subject in the chapter so there’s lots of chapters call ‘Jet’ or ‘Iridium’. Occasionally, for a special treat, there’s a chapter called ‘Jet And Iridium’ and then we get section headings of (you guessed it) ‘Jet’ or ‘Iridium’.

Anyway, the initial chapters are set in the present day of the story which is why we had the ‘NOW’ title page. Jet has remained the loyal Academy hero while Iridium has become her arch-enemy. They have an initial skirmish which Iridium wins on points but leaves Jet alive to fight another day. While Iridium may be the bad girl she’s not evil, just making a living outside of the rules of the Academy which is, of course, against the rules.

There’s yet another title page with the text ‘THEN’ and ‘Year 1’. The following chapters tell the story of Jet and Iridium’s enrolment in the Academy and how they become roommates and friends. I initially thought it was a good idea to have essentially two stories running side by side. In the ‘NOW’ sections, there’s the main story, while the ‘THEN’ sections provide the background information to Jet and Iridium’s time at the Academy and the breakdown in their friendship. I say initially, because towards the end I found the ‘THEN’ sections were interrupting the flow of the main story and were becoming a distraction.

The main story is to do with an evil plot within CORP-CO and possibly the Academy itself. Jet and Iridium are drawn together as they separately stumble across clues that something is not right, although their discoveries may not be solely by chance. Are they merely pawns in a much bigger game involving CORP-CO and the Everyman Society? I would like to say all is revealed towards the end of the book, but it’s not really, which is down to the books lack of depth in lots of areas. CORP-CO remains an anonymous entity, as does the Academy. There are subtle hints about CORP-CO’s activities but nothing definite. Also unresolved is the question regarding the inherent stability of the extrahumans.

There’s not much to say about the main story as there isn’t a real lot of substance in it. If you remember I said there were two stories in this book so the main plot line, the ‘NOW’ bit, can only about 250 pages long. It has to leave room for the ‘THEN’ story and all of the title pages. There are a lot of title pages and they are blank on the back, too.

On the plus side, I do like the Jet and Iridium characters and the authors writing is at its best when dealing directly with them. Where it falls down is in building a coherent universe for them to live in and do their stuff. The big villain behind all the nastiness has an absurd idea to allow him to accomplish his goal of wiping out all life. Yes, I realise that he, the villain, might be losing the plot due to other factors but, frankly, so did I at that point. Comicbook characters are pure escapism but they do have to have a certain amount of credibility for them to be engaging. This villain didn’t have that credibility.

With so many questions unanswered, it is not surprising to find out that there’s another book in the series titled ‘Shades Of Gray’. I wonder if there are 50? Seriously though, I got the impression that ‘Black And White’ was written for a teen audience so a lot of stuff was just glossed over. This is a shame as Kessler and Kittredge have undoubted talent. It’s not a book I would recommend to my comicbook reading friends due to the lack of depth and rather lame ending.

Andy Whitaker

March 2016

(pub: Bantam Spectra, 2009. 452 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.00 (US), $16.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-38631-8)

check out websites: www.bantamdell.com, www.jetandiridium.com, www.jackiekessler.com and www.caitlinkittredge.com

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Superheroes

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About the Author ()

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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