Curiosity Quills Press, 2015, 353 pages
Supervillains do not merely play hooky.
True, coming back to school after a month spent fighting - and defeating - adult superheroes is a bit of a comedown for the Inscrutable Machine. When offered the chance to skip school in the most dramatic way possible, Penelope Akk can't resist. With the help of a giant spider and mysterious red goo, she builds a spaceship and flies to Jupiter.
Mutant goats. Secret human colonies. A war between three alien races with humanity as the prize. Robot overlords and evil plots. Penny and her friends find all this and more on Jupiter's moons, but what they don't find are any heroes to save the day.
Fortunately, they have an angry eleven year old and a whole lot of mad science!
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain was a delightful superheroic romp, with middle school protagonists but steeped deeply enough in superhero lore to entertain adult readers. So the sequel was one of my more anticipated reads this year.
Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon unfortunately suffers from sequelitus: the author seems to have had a bunch of Really Cool ideas about what to do in the sequel, and got lost once the story took off. It was not bad, but it did not live up to the first book.
In book one, Penny Akk and her friends Ray and Claire gained superpowers, and in a series of misadventures, became known as the supervillain team The Inscrutable Machine. Despite having superheroes for parents, they manage to keep their secret identities, and ended book one feeling triumphant while still planning to reform their reputations and become the heroes they meant to be all along.
In this second book, the arachnid mastermind Spider (who really is a giant spider) summons them to her secret base beneath Los Angeles's Chinatown and asks them to go on a mission for her. Into space. Through a teleport gate. And the three of them, being teenagers, say yes.
Once they get into space, the plot becomes muddled by an enormous number of new characters, new creatures, and new subplots. The aliens known as the Conquerors were introduced last book, as a race that had secretly tried to invade the Earth and been beaten back by Earth's heroes. They still remain mostly off-stage in this book, but we learn that they fought a war with another race, the Puppeteers, who are biotech horrors. It also turns out the outer planets of the solar system were colonized back around the turn of the previous century by Edwardian Mad Scientists (i.e. supervillains with super-inventing powers like Penny). So now several moons are occupied by humans who have weird science technology that is both more and less advanced than Earth's, giving the author an excuse to throw steampunk and aetheric engines and Lovecraftian monsters and ancient astronauts and alien stone artifacts that shoot lightning and corseted little girls who build kludged-together mecha (I think Roberts is rather obviously a Girl Genius fan) and whatever else he could think of into the setting.
Penny and her friends fly around in a giant space fish, start an uprising against a bunch of steampunk robots, do a dungeon crawl through an alien-infested asteroid, and crack lots of slightly-risque-for-middle-schoolers jokes, since Penny and Ray are now a couple (but have not yet gotten past sly grins and blushes), while Claire, whose mother is a super-sexy seductress, has acquired a version of her mother's power that can best be described as super-Kawaii.
There are a lot of characters introduced, some of whom I'm sure will be making a return appearance if there are more books in the series. But it all happens away from Earth, and then thanks to a deux ex machina cover-up by Spider, they return to Earth and it's as if nothing happened.
Richard Roberts knows his superhero tropes, and his characters are very, very genre-savvy. So he's clearly got a large superhero universe to explore in, but I would have liked to have seen more development of what was introduced in the first book, rather than flying off into space and ignoring almost all the secondary characters we were introduced to before. I found this to be a somewhat chaotic ride, and it needed firmer editing.
Verdict: Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon is a fun book and I'm still looking forward to more adventures of Penny and her friends, but it did not have the consistent worldbuilding and character development of the first book. It reads a bit like a second draft, with too much story and not enough polish. 7/10.
Also by Richard Roberts: My review of Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain.
My complete list of book reviews.