Speaker by author Peter Wallace
Thank you to author Peter Wallace for providing me with a copy of Speaker in exchange for this honest review.
The basic idea behind Speaker is simple. A young man, Hamish, learns that he has the ability to communicate with all animals. He has a real life super power! The question really is, how is he going to use it?
I read a lot of comic books so I know a good bit about super powers and books about super powers. I think one of the biggest keys to writing a successful super power book is to properly match the hero with a villain. The powers need to fit the crime and vice versa.
For instance, you wouldn’t place the entirety of The Avengers against a small time drug dealer. That’s an uneven and therefore uninteresting match. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to read about fresh young Spiderman trying to bring down Galactus all by himself. He’d be anhiliated, also an uninteresting match. But you also want the powers to make sense with a villain. Aquaman needs water based conflicts to solve, for example.
So here we have Hamish, a boy of about 15 years of age who seems to have lived a pretty sheltered life up until this point. He has very little knowledge of the world outside the small town he grew up in. Having to move to Brooklyn is the biggest disruption he’s ever known and the biggest city he’s ever seen.
This means that maybe, Hamish is in way over his head when he tries to take on an international child sex trafficking ring led by bad guy of all trades who only does the whole human trafficking thing as a side hustle and for personal kicks. This is a real bad dude. This is at least a Defenders level threat. Not a conflict for a young boy who can talk to animals.
What does talking to animals have to do with child sex trafficking you might ask? Well, I had the same question and never got a satisfactory answer. The whole book I kept waiting for his power to somehow make sense with this threat but it never clicks into place. Even how he uses his power at the climax seemed a bit of a reach.
If this bad guy had been trafficking illegal exotic pets, that would have made a lot more sense. Instead we get an odd plot wherein a 15 year old somehow meets a young sex slave and gets involved in some way bigger than he can handle problems.
Hamish never seems to understand the scope of this crime syndicate. He’s a child, all he can worry about is his new friend. He doesn’t understand that law enforcement can’t risk an entire case just for one victim and that he’s a disruption to traditional law and order.
Hamish wants to cut off the head of this organization, think that means it’ll die, but he doesn’t see that any other bad guy will just take his place. This goes way deeper than that.
Is a naive young hero endearing or frustrating? I kept asking myself this and landed on frustrating. If the book had also been more charming or entertaining I may have changed my mind. Unfortunately, I was more bored than anything else.
The ending seems to conclude with Speaker being an origin story and the door being left open for a continuing series. If you follow my reviews you know how much I hate this. If you intend to not complete your story in one book, be honest about it. Put “book 1” on the cover and tell me I’m in for more than the one volume.
There is one more point I need to cover about the style of Speaker. For the bulk of the book it appears to be written from the perspective of a third person omniscient narrator. However, the tone randomly changes to a fourth wall break where the narrator is actually a character aware they’re telling the story of Hamish.
This narrator has way too many details of Hamish’s private life and time alone for me to buy into them being a character. Also, who are they?! That is revealed toward the very end of the book but I still don’t really know how they play into the story or what their relationship with Hamish even is. This is another detail that makes me believe a sequel is in store.
This uneven narration made the whole book seem amateurish. It was inconsistent and unreliable and I just didn’t care for it whether it was a conscious choice or simply a mistake.
There were times that I thought Speaker might end up being a 3 star review but the technical errors really dragged it down for me. Here’s hoping the sequels improve upon the problems with the first one.
2/5 animals 🐅🐘
For a more balanced YA superpower novel check out Special
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