There is something special that happens when an author defies expectations and creates something that seems to be totally out of their comfort zone. There is a certain thrill that a reader gets when we realize that we are witnessing the evolution of a writer as he explores his craft. This is exactly what happened when Wrath James White and JF Gonzalez pooled their talents and unleashed Hero on the genre.
Adelle Smith has lived her entire life for the betterment of mankind. A Civil Rights Activist in the Sixties and Seventies, she has spent most of her adult life attending marches, giving speeches, and lending a hand to anyone in need. But on the very evening she is to be acknowledged with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her humanitarian efforts, a stroke leaves her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Now Adelle’s in the care of a ruthless hospice nurse, who sees not a hero before her, but the cause of her many hardships growing up as a child of interracial parents, someone who decides to give Adelle her very own brand of Physical Therapy; consisting of pain and suffering, mental cruelty and torture. And now, after a lifetime of helping others, Adelle needs help, quickly, before another round of brutal treatment snuffs out her life.
White and Gonzalez are two authors who really know how to bring the blood. In fact, these are two authors that I routinely hear people say that their books are “too much.” I guess that is why I was so surprised to see these two masters of gore rein it in a bit and deliver a story that explores the subtle nuances of racism and survival.
The writing is absolutely seamless, which is becoming rarer and rarer with collaborations. Many times, the difference in style is so discernable that it completely takes the reader away from the story- this isn’t the case with Hero. White and Gonzalez approach this story with an air of confidence as they deftly craft one of the most tightly wound tales of medical terror that one is likely to come across. They assault us with their command of the craft and leave us cowering with the protagonist as we await the next onslaught. Make no mistake, Hero puts the reader through some serious abuse. Sure, there are nasty bits of physical torture (it is a Wrath and JF collaboration, after all) but what really threw me for a loop was the emotional rollercoaster I found myself caught up in. The authors really engage the reader on an emotional level and this is where the story really shines.
The protagonist, Adelle, has been through quite a bit in her life and the authors take the time to explore her heart-breaking past. The reader is left to bear witness to the racial inequities that shaped Adelle into the strong civil leader that she is today. The authors do a sensational job of shaping her past which is why the present seems to be so much more unsettling. See, one gets the impression that Adelle has overcome all possible adversity and now she can ride off into the sunset and leave the younger generation to carry the torch. She deserves the time to herself and now she finally has it. Unfortunately, her new hospice nurse won’t let Adelle off the hook so easily. This particular nurse presents us with a very unique view of racism, as she combines elements of self-loathing with a balls-to-the-wall case of psychosis. Adelle is put in a hopeless situation as she finds herself at the mercy of the deranged nurse and the audience winces along for the ride which yields some very interesting and unexpected results.
The story plays out in reality. There are no sugarcoated characters with strong morals. Everyone in Hero has flaws and they act accordingly. This allows the writers to lend a sense of credibility as they explore the various issues that are present with inner-city life. No one is glorified but there are aspects of their personality that should be celebrated. There is the local drug pusher who, despite the violent life he leads, is willing to keep a watchful eye over Adelle after she is released from the hospital. Then we have Adelle’s daughter, who has left the city for the suburbs and is constantly trying to suppress her urban upbringing while putting on a white collar façade. These are the types of characters that make Hero an absolute delight to read. Anyone can write a gripping story about a crazed nurse tormenting her patient, but it takes special talent to add layers of social commentary and authenticity to the proceedings. This is the magic of Hero.
If you have no prior experience with White or Gonzalez, you may see Hero as a well told exploration of tension but Hero is much more than that. Aside from being a great collaboration, Hero is the manifestation of two writers challenging themselves and their craft. It is something that will be enjoyed by all genre fans but will mean so much more to fans of both authors.