Samhain Publishing, 2012, 325 pages
Jo Tanis is still recovering from her near-death experience in Las Vegas when she receives a mysterious postcard from Harris Limox, who claims to have a promising lead on the whereabouts of the Controller. Over her boyfriend/guardian Hunter's objections, she sets off to a sleepy Oregon town to ferret out the truth.
The Controller is more than just a disgruntled super. He's a rogue Guardian who was presumed dead and is now armed with a slew of high-tech hardware that not only makes him physically superior to the supers—and therefore almost impossible to destroy—he's got the ability to detonate the implants in the back of all supers' necks.
In Oregon, Jo meets a surviving Alpha super, Kit Masters, whose wild plan to capture the Controller could put an entire town of innocents at risk. But instead of successfully talking her former idol out of his disastrous bid to regain former glory, Jo finds herself betrayed and trapped in her worst nightmare.
Fight her former teammates, or die.
Samhain Publishing is a small press that mostly publishes romances/erotica. They sell a fair amount of fantasy, SF, and superhero novels, but it's all fundamentally romance with a genre veneer. Sheryl Nantus's Blaze of Glory trilogy was more genre and somewhat less romance, which is why I enjoyed it, but in the third book, the handful of interesting ideas that were presented in Nantus's superhero universe were mostly left unexplored, and the story, which is essentially a long chase/escape/fight sequence, was frequently (frequently) interrupted with reminders that the main character is a super-babe who likes a good dicking. Jo Tanis, aka "Surf," is Buffy to Hunter's Riley, Hunter (yes, that's his name) being an ex-Guardian who used to be in charge of supers like Jo.
Jo was hooked up with another Guardian in the first book. The thing is, the Guardians worked for the Agency, which was a shadowy government outfit that controlled all supers by fitting them with explosive collars and then making them stage "superhero/supervillain" battles for the public. The justification for this was that the public would panic if supers were actually wandering around free doing their own thing, but if they are presented with regular spectacles of good guys beating down bad guys, they'll be pacified.
So, remember - the Agency enslaved all supers and summarily executed anyone who didn't play along. And after the supers were freed in the first book, no one has blown the whistle, the Agency still exists but is "reformed," so Jo and her team, the Protectors, are still working with them, and Jo is fucking an ex-Guardian (someone who once had his finger on the button to blow the head off of a disobedient super).
Also, in the first book, Earth was invaded by aliens, but this is barely mentioned again.
This is one of the problems with superhero novels, particularly series — to be credible, you have to invest a lot more effort in continuity (and a willingness to actually change the world) than comic book writers do. By the third book in Sheryl Nantus's series, we've seen an alien invasion, the revelation that all previous superhero battles were staged, and a covert government agency has been treating some of its citizens as slaves, with no civil rights and able to be summarily executed at any time (it's also implied that every country in the world does this), and a lot of advanced technology that apparently only the Agency possesses (wouldn't the Department of Defense be interested in those Iron Man suits?), but not much has actually changed either in the world or for the main characters, because the author would rather write about superhero battles and a stream of double-entendres, winks, and tee-hees about kinky funtimes between Surf and the guy who wears a bracelet that used to be able to blow her head off.
Speaking of which: supposedly even though all the explosive collars have been deactivated — a supposition which of course is predictably proven false by the bad guy in this book — none of the formerly enslaved supers can actually take them off. So, no advanced technology or super-power has been found that can remove these things?
If I were a super who had been enslaved by the Agency, here are some things I would not do:
1. I would not rest until I'd figured out how to get the fucking explosive collar off my neck.
2. I would not have anything to do with government men in black who put a fucking explosive collar around my neck.
3. In particular, I would not fuck anyone who used to be one of the government agents whose job it was to detonate the fucking explosive collar around my neck.
Obviously, Jo Tanis does not feel the same way. Because Hunter is so hot.
Now maybe I'm being a little unfair here, judging a novel by standards that wouldn't apply to a comic book, but superheroes are a visual medium, so taking them on in written form implies taking on all the challenges that entails, and I feel that Sheryl Nantus rather dropped the ball in book three. Heroes Lost and Found is just another hero caper, with a villain who in fact encapsulates all my objections above: Nicholas Dykovski is a former Guardian who made speeches like this:
Kit cleared his throat before lurching from the recliner and getting to his feet. He put his hands behind his back and his feet apart in a parade-rest position, eyes down.
I winced, remembering my training days.
He lowered his voice to a dull rumble. "You supers are nothing but a fucking plague on the earth. I'd like nothing better than to pull all your plugs, you inferior genetic specimens. But since I have to work with you fucktards, I'll make the best of it until the time comes." Kit paused to look over at me, watching my response.
I shifted my weight. I knew there'd been anti-super feelings here and there, both inside and outside the Agency. But it hurt like hell to hear what a Guardian supposedly said about us.
Kit's tone returned to his parody. "I'll pull all your fucking plugs, except for the cute girls who I'll screw into next Tuesday and the ones I decide are worthy enough to breed. And we'll take over this useless cesspool of a country and create our own perfect society, where mutants like you will know your place and like it. No more parading around in tight spandex outfits and getting lobster dinners. You'll work for your food and like it. And if not, we'll pull your fucking plugs and move on to the next freak."
Sigh at that writing. The wincing, the shifting her weight, the "pause to watch for reaction" — overusing "beats" like that to break up dialog is amateurish writing and it was overused to the point of distracting in this book. Pretty much all the dialog reads like that.
Kit, as an "Alpha" (a Freudian label if ever I read one in a book full of Jo squirming at inappropriate moments at the thought of being dominated by a dude who doesn't even have superpowers), was once one of the superstars of the staged superhero battle circuit. Dykovski was his Guardian, and apparently the guy talked like that all the time, as well as beating the crap out of the supers he was in charge of. The Agency did nothing, and throughout this book, the "reformed" Agency continues to lie to Jo and her team.
Dykovski himself is as one-dimensional a cardboard villain as they come, introducing us to the concept of racial animosity for supers in a world that has yet to establish this being a thing, and layering his megalomaniacal rantings with loads of misogynistic ranting and abuse just for the sake of abuse, so we don't mistake that he's a Bad Guy.
I was reaaaaallly expecting this to build up to a big "Fuck you" moment when the supers decide they are done with this shit, but instead, once Dykovski is defeated, Jo gives a heroic speech about how we're heroes so we have to be better than him, they hand him over to the "reformed" Agency, which is going to just throw him in a hole without trial in order to prevent the truth from leaking to the public (hello, U.S. Constitution, what is that?) and jaunt off to R&R before, maybe in the next book, going off to other countries to find out how Europe and all those foreign places oppressed and enslaved their supers.
This is one of those books that inspired one of my harsher reviews even though I didn't actually hate it, because I'm very nitpicky about superhero fiction. The characters are memorable enough to be Player Characters in an RPG (I would not be greatly surprised to learn that was how they originated), and the fights were cool. But the "endearing personality quirks" became writing shorthand substituting for characterization (Jo eats a lot but still fits a size 2 Victoria's Secret body into leather, Hunter is protective-alpha-male-grrrrowl, Harris Limox is a crusty old fat guy who pretends to be a sleaze but is secretly a gentleman, and Dykovski is a batshit-crazy villain who locks chicks in cages in their underwear).
The lack of inspiring writing (it read like many products of small press romance lines that churn out literary bon-bons written by authors skimmed from among the more talented fanfic writers) and the failure to make any kind of statement about her world or shake it up significantly, made this final book the weakest in the series. Read the first book if you like superheroes, read the second one if you liked the first one, read the third if you are a completist like me who derives entertainment from mediocre books by writing snarky reviews.
Verdict: For superhero fans, this trilogy is a moderately entertaining series with a variety of supers and lots of fights, decent characters, mediocre writing, and a good start at worldbuilding, but Heroes Lost and Found is a bit of a flop at the finish. Your enjoyment will depend largely on your love-of-all-things-superhero to dislike-of-romance-masquerading-as-super
Also by Sheryl Nantus: My reviews of Blaze of Glory and Heroes Without, Monsters Within.
My complete list of book reviews.