Review by Andre H.
Stan Lee’s Alliances: A Trick of Light
Hardcover | Kindle | Audiobook
By Stan Lee and Kat Rosenfield
Afterword: Ryan Silbert, Luke Lieberman
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: September 17, 2019
A Trick of Light is a self-aware, pop culture snapshot that introduces us to the Stan Lee’s Alliances series. It serves as a love letter to Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z with many references to current trends, technology, internet language and culture, classic and modern gaming, and issues such as misinformation and digital privacy. The book further combines many genres and subjects: science fiction, urban legends, politics, ethics, technological singularity, horror, adventure, and cyberpunk and pays its respect to other books and series like Ghost in The Shell, Ready Player One, Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Bioshock, and more.
This was a clear and mostly successful attempt to combine many elements, but A Trick of Light is hampered by an uneven tone and an unevenly paced story that lacks urgency. But even with those shortcomings, the story is supported by lovable and interesting characters, a well-written villain, and a heartbreaking twist. Overall, it is a very touching story about friendship, love, loss, revenge, the dangers of technology, and the isolation and consequences that come with having the world at our fingertips.
The opening question of the story introduces us to the overall theme of the novel: What is more real: a world we are born into or one we create for ourselves? This question is proposed by Cameron Ackerman, the protagonist, a 17-year-old trying to solve a mystery while livestreaming on YouTube. The question at first seems a bit surface level due to the context, but changes after Cameron’s livestream ends in disaster.
Cameron is a character that is easily relatable. He is not one of the cool kids, a nerd by self-definition, not a prodigy by any means, and not a social outcast. His relationship with the other characters — his closest and loyal friend Juaquo; Nia, the love interest; his mother Raquelle Ackerson, and others — is a major part of the book and is what makes Cameron an interesting and dynamic character. We clearly see this in his relationship with his mother. Raquelle isn’t just another background parent in a novel about the adventures of teenagers, but an active well-written participant in the overall narrative. Her love and concern for Cameron and Juaquo shines through in a tale with a significant number of dark undertones.
Then there’s Nia and her father, known as Father, who have a strange and uncomfortable relationship. Things look rather awful as it seems like Nia is being held captive against her will, but there is more to Father and Nia than what we see. The character depth of Father as the story progresses is somewhat parallel to that of Raquelle Ackerson. Father is a parent who cares and loves his child. He seems overprotective, but has good intentions. Nia is similar to Cameron in many ways, but is a mystery that is eventually revealed and makes us question our use and love of technology.
The novel is a strong introduction into the Alliances Universe, which was created by comic book legend Stan Lee, along with Ryan Silbert and Luke Lieberman (they provided the Afterword here, too). The project was one of Lee’s final ones before his passing in November 2018 at age 95, and he penned the book with Kat Rosenfield.
Coming in at just over 300 pages, A Trick of Light is easy to read and easy to imagine. The story can be incredibly dark due to the modern setting, adult themes, and political climate, but does well by not trivializing serious issues. The pace and tone can take dramatic shifts, but it remains grounded and the climax and conclusion presents a horrifying what-if scenario that remains within the realm of possibility. The modern day setting and the adventures of Nia and Cameron in real life (irl) and in the digital world shows us how connections can be made as well as how disconnected we can be.
In a few years, A Trick of Light will serve as a reference for the culture of the 2010s. The abundance of pop culture references can be eye-roll-inducing and disrupt the suspension of disbelief, but they serve their purpose very well. Lee and Rosenfield knew the reactions they would elicit from readers and their targeted audience. Hopefully there will be a strong follow-up since Juaquo, Cameron, Raquelle, Nia, and Father are strong characters that we care about and want to see more of as the Alliances Universe is expanded.
From the publisher:
Nia, a gifted but desperately lonely hacker, is living in isolation with her strict single dad. As a social-media maven, she is wildly popular and has more than a million friends. But they are all strangers who love her posts but know nothing about her that is real.
Cameron is on a quest for YouTube fame as a vlogger focusing on exploring the mysteries of Lake Erie. While recording his latest video, he is knocked out by lightning in a freak storm that appears to defy the laws of physics. When Cameron awakens, he discovers an astonishing cyberkinetic talent: the ability to manipulate computers and electronics with his mind.
After a chance meeting online, the two teenagers—one born with extraordinary gifts, one unwillingly transformed—join together to right wrongs in the world. As Nia and Cameron develop their powers and deal out reckonings, they draw the attention of dangerous forces, putting the future of the planet at risk.
Set in Stan Lee’s Alliances Universe, co-created by Lee, Luke Lieberman, and Ryan Silbert, and written with Edgar Award–nominated author Kat Rosenfield, Stan Lee delivers a novel packed with the pulse-pounding, breakneck adventure and the sheer exuberant invention that have defined his career as the creative mastermind behind the spectacular Marvel universe.