[NOTE: I’ll be traveling in India with two (brave or perhaps stupid) friends for the next several weeks. My apologies in advance for any delays in responding or posting. I’ll be adding updates about our adventures, plus some reviews including the one below for Donna Marie Oldfield’s new release, Heroes and Villains.]
Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two roommates and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, we pulled it off—mostly because we went to a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because one of them was carrying the BS, her blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images.
Flushed with success (not to mention cellphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, and the ability to drink legally), we recklessly decided to repeat this feat forty years later. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against randomly linking up are approximately a bazillion to zip.
Unfortunately, there is another tourist who decided to visit the Taj Mahal at about the same time. The President of the United States must have decided to meet up with former roommates too. So India is closed this week. Between the road cleaning, painting, and repairs, and the twelve hundred troops deployed in the semi-clean/painted/repaired roads, India is enduring traffic jams of epic proportions.
Of course, nobody in India notices this, because there is no noticable difference from how the roads usually are navigated. This came as a shock to me because for the past several years, I’ve been driving in the UK. British drivers (whose finely-honed queuing skills mean that lane markers are virtually unnecessary) have been known to spend weeks at a crossroad, four facing drivers blinking their headlights and politely waving all other drivers ahead, rather than risk being the one who (gasp!) jumps queue and moves first.
Since arriving in India a few days ago, I admit that my eyes were usually closed while my friend calmly navigated traffic where directional lanes were optional, and moving obstacles included rickshaw drivers, horse-drawn carts, motorbikes carrying entire families, pedestrians, and of course, wandering herds of cows, donkeys, goats, and wild dogs. At one point, she slid into a sliver of space between opposing lorries with a precision skill that would have hardened top gun pilots soiling their flight suits. When my life stopped flashing before my eyes, I observed that she was moving briskly in the wrong direction. On a freeway. Toward opposing traffic. “Of course,” she explained with complete lack of concern. “There’s a traffic jam on our side. But don’t worry…that means on our way back we can go on the right side of the road.”
Her secret—indeed the secret to all driving in India—is the horn. I have no idea what my own car horn sounds like, or even whether I’ve ever heard it. Honking in the UK is just…so…rude. But in India the car horn functions as automotive sonar, warning everything and everyone on that road of your approach.
I shot this video without actually opening my eyes. Trust me—it was better that way.
REVIEW: Heroes and Villains by Donna Marie Oldfield
Teenage superhero Scarlett Shortt is stuck in an alternate timeline that’s growing more dystopian by the minute, and now it looks like her days could be numbered. Three months have passed since Out of Time #1 and Scarlett, Dylan and their friends are living life on the run after being forced out of their cosy London house. They flee to Scarlett’s home city of Manchester, which has been run into the ground under evil Prime Minister Goulden’s regime. Much of the area has been destroyed and things are set to get even worse thanks to the PM’s plans for cruel weapons, segregation and war. As if things aren’t bleak enough, their new friend, Mason, has a premonition that Scarlett will be killed and millions will die in a separate attack. Then there’s the added complication of a deadly new foe, The Echidna, and a team of supervillains that features some very familiar faces. Can the young superheroes stop millions of innocent people from dying? How will Scarlett deal with predictions of her death and will moralistic leader Dylan toughen up and accept that the rules have changed in this harsh new world?
Recently, I visited several of India’s beautiful temples and heard more of the stories surrounding the Hindu gods. Vishnu, who sustains and protects the cosmic order (dharma), has had nine incarnations through which he protected the world. According to legend, he will reappear in a final (tenth) incarnation when the world most has need of him. It made me realize that most cultures have stories of heroes who will rise in their hour of need, such as England’s King Arthur, Germany’s Barbarossa, Ireland’s Kathleen ni Houlihan (Caitlín Ní Uallacháin), and a host of others.
Like these traditional champions, Scarlet Shortt and her friends in Donna Marie Oldfield’s Heroes and Villains have received their powers just as their country needs them most. One of the subtexts her story explores is the question of what the young superheroes owe to each other, to their country, and the world. Do their new abilities come with a responsibility to protect others? And if so, just how far should they be prepared to go? These are difficult questions at the best of time, but she adds the extra complexity of giving them to teenagers who are still trying to come to terms with their own identities. As they grapple with these questions, Scarlet and her friends also face the insecurities, frustrations, and strengths of normal teens—who just happen to be able to teleport, fly, freeze water, etc.
In my review of her debut YA novel, Out of Time, Book 1 of the series (here), I said that not only did author Donna Marie Oldfield get most of it right, but she did it with immaculate spelling and grammar. In this next book of the series, she continues the story, building on the foundation of relationships she’s established. When we meet Scarlet Shortt in Heroes and Villains, three months have passed since she and her friends narrowly escaped their confrontation with the evil Prime Minister. Now, more secure with her superhero identity, Scarlett’s risk-taking behaviour puts her at odds with other members of her group, and most especially with its leader—and her boyfriend—the idealistic Dylan.
Characters show more individual growth than in the previous book, and their individual personalities shine more. While I thought the plot had a few too many loops for my taste, the overall the pace was fast enough to maintain interest. But my biggest issue with the previous book still remains a problem: even the most basic of economics classes would reveal that the underlying premise is so overly simplistic and unrealistic as to be almost a caricature of itself. This dystopian England is a nation of haves and have-nots so polarized that the poor are forced into slavery in cartoon energy-generating plants. Children are forced to pedal stationary bicycles or giant hamster wheels to produce electricity similar to the (literal) cartoon Les Triplettes de Belleville. Luckily, the real issues are questions of whether the responsibilities of having great powers can justify using them to inflict injury and deat
I’d give Out of Time four out of five stars for its fast-paced action and innovative plot. It was an enjoyable, breezy read and I look forward to the next book in the series.
- Book Title: Heroes and Villains (Out of Time Series, Book 2)
- Author: Donna Marie Oldfield
- Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
- Length: 280 pages
- Release Date: October 31, 2014