Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.
After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government?
Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.
Warnings: physical and gun violence, unethical experimentation, kidnapping, shame regarding ace-spec questioning
Not Your Villain is sort of an origin story for Bells as well as a continuation from Not Your Sidekick. Bells has been secretly going to Meta-human training camp for the past three years, and is being hailed as the next greatest hero with a power scale that rivals that of their leader, Captain Orion. However, as we saw in the previous book, Jess and Abby inform him of what the League of Heroes is doing and he helps out. Now, they all have to try to find a way to expose the League, while also laying low. Their efforts are thwarted because the League is powerful and controls the media, and paints Bells as a villain to discredit him. Their only hope is in Abby’s father being the one to disseminate the truth to the public, but he is being held in a location unknown to them. With so many things working against them, the Sidekick Squad looks for signs of the Resistance to have help.
Bells is the highlight of the book; he is adorable, cool and funny. His personal arc is about him starting with always believing in the heroes and one day hoping to become one of them too, and seeing that belief broken and then him being painted as a villain, to be called dangerous. He is not sure of his path and the limits of his powers, but he and his friends are looking for ways to prove themselves and to find a way forward that would keep them all safe and their family out of harm’s way. He also helps out Abby when she loses the access to her powers, and through that, his own powers are explored. His crush on Emma is also played off well, considering this is also a time where she is questioning things herself, and it was sweet to see them together (though, I must admit, I loved the tension of the bowling scene). As for the world, we see a more expansive version of it than before, as the story takes them to different parts of the NAC, and also gives a glimpse into how common folk respond to the system.
Now, while Not Your Villain has a good plotline, with Bells’ character arc and the combined efforts of all of their parents, as well as Orion bent on gathering meta-humans to power herself, the pacing of this story is all over the place. The first third rushes past because after introducing Bells and his life, it sort of recaps the events of book 1 from his perspective, which is super fast and mostly descriptive. When it finally catches up to the present, it has them running around in deserts, him going off on his own, then them catching up to their parents, and trying to convince them to let them be involved. Then again towards the ending it rushes things to put them in different places again, without much reason given as to why all the decisions from start to finish were made like that. Their parents leave them for months to go off save other meta-humans, and yes, they did make arrangements, it was still a risk to take when they could have just taken them to that bunker in the first place. There are many such other plot conveniences that grated at me (like Bells’ lonely ride in the desert), even though I enjoyed the book as a whole.
Is it diverse? Main character is a bi/pansexual Black trans boy; has queer secondary characters including a bisexual Vietnamese girl, her queer girlfriend, an ace-spec Latina girl, minor aroace and non-binary characters, and other queer and POC characters.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Interlude Press, via Netgalley.
Previous book in the Sidekick Squad series