This is the third book in Van Allen Plexico's excellent Sentinels series of superhero novels, and the conclusion to The Grand Design trilogy. As a writer moves further and further into a series, some of the magic that was present at the beginning can begin to fade. The characters become overly familiar, the surprises grow less surprising, and there's a sort of "sameness" that develops.
Although I enjoyed the second book in this series, A Distant Star, there was a sense that it was more set-up for Apocalypse Rising than its own entity. So I was a little worried that Van may not have been able to capture the lightning in a bottle he harnessed so effectively with the inaugural Sentinels novel, When Strikes The Warlord.
Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, because Van certainly brings his A-game to this book. The plot threads that began in When Strikes The Warlord and continued and expanded on in A Distant Star are brought to an awe-inspiring finale that serves as both the end of the first phase in the lives of these characters, and the beginning of something more.
In a world where The Avengers was one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and turned what was once an unknown property to anyone outside of the comic book community, it's become very frustrating to watch Marvel consistently fumble the ball with their premiere superhero franchise. Of the core titles, one is more concerned with the characters arguing amongst themselves than fighting supervillains, another shows the supposed "heroes" debating the merits of mass genocide in favor of the greater good, and the third features pretentious plot lines and characters who serve little purpose than to act as wallpaper.
It's extremely disappointing. And that's why we need people like Van Allen Plexico, who can still give us the same thrilling superhero tales that Joss Whedon and co. delivered so effectively with The Avengers. Van follows in the footsteps of some of the greatest superhero writers in history, names like Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Chris Claremont, Kurt Busiek, and Grant Morrison. These men are giants when it comes to superheroes, and Van has proven he is more than capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with them.
If you're looking for stellar characterization, larger-than-life stories, and, most-importantly, superheroes who aren't ashamed to act heroic, then you need to be reading Sentinels. Because no one, either in comics or prose, is doing superheroes better than Van Allen Plexico.