I really enjoyed the blockbuster superhero-esque fun of The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind (check out my review here if you need a refresher!) and since I ended up reading the next two books back-to-back, I thought I’d put all my thoughts about both books into one review! Unfortunately, I feel like what made the first book feel fresh and fun has soured into something that left me rather cold.
Books: Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air and Eye of the Sh*t Storm by Jackson Ford
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Death, injury, murder, violence, including of children and major characters; past medical abuse and scientific experiments on unconsenting humans; earthquakes, including scenes of realistic city damage and people being buried alive (mainly in Random Sh*t); drug abuse and discussion of addiction (mainly in Sh*t Storm).
(All censoring in this review is verbatim from the titles, not mine!)
Teagan Frost is back for more adventures with the China Shop team, the sort-of secret government outfit that handles issues caused by people with supernatural powers – and even though there shouldn’t be any more out there, they just keep popping up. In these two books, China Shop have to deal with two very different children with dangerous powers, while also trying to find out more about the capital-S School they came from – plus a whole host of other problems from tensions within the team to biker gangs. Plus, Teagan wants nothing more than to give up the whole thing and go to culinary school… Shame about all the danger getting in the way!
As with the first book, these are flashy, cinematic feeling books – think halfway between Jason Bourne and Sharknado. I wasn’t at all surprised to read that the series is being adapted for television! I don’t know what they have planned, but I think it would work really nicely as an episodic series, because I found that this time around, there wasn’t enough substance to the characters to sustain the length. I love a team of misfits that becomes a family, but all the members of China Shop seem to be holding each other at arm’s length – I didn’t believe that they liked each other, let alone cared for each other! Perhaps it’s me – I’m not much of a reader of thrillers or a watcher of action films, so where the first book was a refreshing break to me and I didn’t need much of a bond with the characters, the sequels being more of the same didn’t work for me? But I wonder if it’s perhaps a case where some tighter editing and better character work could have saved these sequels from feeling saggy and confusing. Random Sh*t at least had a linear chase plot that kept things moving, with China Shop trying to track down whoever was causing earthquakes around LA, but even though I only just finished Sh*t Storm, I honestly couldn’t tell you what the overarching plot was – I felt like the team were just barging around walking into issues without a plan, and having personal problems I couldn’t figure out. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of fun moments in both books (Teagan’s disastrous attempt to break into the private jet of a cool, handsome billionaire was great!), but on the whole, I was mostly dragged through the books rather than on the journey with the characters.
Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air was definitely my least favourite of the series so far, largely down to the antagonist being a psychopathic 4-year-old. I just don’t enjoy evil children as a trope, particularly not now I’m an adult. It just feels cruel and unnecessarily edgy to portray a child who’s been abused horrifically (in this case, by scientists more interested in his powers than his wellbeing) as some sort of naturally evil and twisted person. Thinking about it, I don’t love one-note psychopaths as adult characters, either – I think a good antagonist needs to have something understandable about them, even if you don’t agree with them – but it felt particularly horrible here to have such a small child be so brutally, irredeemably evil. Eye of the Sh*t Storm goes some way to redeem this, showing a different 4-year-old with powers who behaves much more like a child, but there are still a lot of offhand comments about how evil the first one was.
The main difficulty that I had here is that Teagan just isn’t very likeable to me, and we spend most of the book in her head. In the first book she came across to me as a fun take on the superhero stereotype – I think I described it as something like ‘imagine if Batman rolled his eyes whenever he saw the Batsignal’. That worked in the first book, I think, but stretched out over time, I found Teagan’s snark to come across more like a child having a tantrum, and her flip-floppiness in terms of morals made it hard for me to connect with her. She doesn’t like working for China Shop, but she does like saving people, except when she doesn’t because it’s inconvenient. Sometimes she’ll jeopardise an entire mission to selflessly save a few dozen people; sometimes she’ll do the opposite. The thing is, without a clear idea of her moral code, I’m not cheering for her when she throws away the plan and trusting she’s doing the greater good, I’m wondering what the hell is going on and how badly this is going to go. She’s often extremely horrible to the people around her, even when they put themselves out for her – and when people call her on it, which should be a plus, it often leads to cringingly awkward scenes. At one point, a Black character tells Teagan off for making a careless comment about the police without considering the different attitudes they might have to her, a white woman, and him, a Black man, and we are then subjected to several pages of her first-person narration considering how she might be – but didn’t mean to be! – racist. What could have been a powerful exchange felt cheap and awkward to me. This is echoed for me in Teagan’s discovery in Sh*t Storm that her powers are hugely boosted by the use of meth – several scenes of her justifying to herself why it’s okay for her to do meth, because she isn’t like other addicts, left me feeling uncomfortable and really disliking her selfish, privileged voice.
I’m not sure I’ll be continuing with this series, but I definitely think that’s because they’re a mismatch for me, rather than me saying they’re objectively bad! I think if you’re someone who enjoys flashy, slightly silly action movies, then these offer exactly that in a book form – if you can get on with Teagan as a character, they’re great to read quickly and have fun with the ridiculousness. I’m going to give Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air three out of five cats, and Eye of the Sh*t Storm three and a half out of five cats. I do recommend checking out the first book first, though!