Dreadnought by April Daniels | Book Review

Sunday 3 November 2019

There are many different things that I enjoy. I love me some superheroes and I love me some books that can tackle modern issues with grace. So when I heard about Dreadnought by April Daniels, I was super excited. I didn’t even wait for it to be returned to my local library. I had to have it. I was already positive I was going to like it when I first opened the book. Did I find what I was expecting? Kind of. Here’s my review.
Let me start by saying that I did like this book. I think it’s important to say this because I’m going to criticize the book and normally when there’s too much criticism, there’s the mistaken belief that the critic didn’t like it.  I enjoyed this book. I really did. But there are some things you should know before you go into it. But first, here’s what it’s about.
Danny has a few problems. The first is that she has always believed she was a girl, but just born into the wrong body. The second is that one of the greatest superheroes in the world just died right in front of her. Not only that, but he passed along his mantle to her so she’s the new Dreadnought. Let’s top this all off with the fact that the powers transform her body into what she thinks it should have been, a woman’s body. So now she has superpowers when there’s a villain lurking around somewhere with the power to kill a world class hero. That’s pretty bad. But also she’s physically a woman now, and she hasn’t even come out to her family yet. What’s a girl to do?
Before I picked up the book I read some of the reviews on Goodreads and I noticed that most of them sang the praises of the book. But I’m always interested in the bad reviews too. Were the bad reviews for this book written by transphobic people? No. Actually. No they weren’t. I was surprised to find that quite a few of the worst reviews were written by people who were excited to read the book but were disappointed. And now, only after finishing Dreadnought, I can see both sides. I can see why some sing its praises while others lament what could have been.
Are you hungry? I’ll make you a compliment sandwich. Just remember, there may be a lot of filling in this sandwich, but the bread is still quite good.
The best thing about this book was it’s interesting story and how much there was going on. So we have Danny, or Danielle as she likes to be called, who has newfound powers and has suddenly caught the eye of her city’s version of the Avengers. So she gets swept up into this world of superheroes and has a big decision to make. Will she join this league of heroes? Does she even want to be a hero? Or will she give up her powers and return to the way things were.
There was always something new or something interesting going on so the book never felt stagnant. I kept turning the pages even during the parts I didn’t like, which really says something. Some of the problems I had with this book could have sunk it for me. If Dreadnought wasn’t as interesting as it was, I would have walked away. But I kept turning the pages because I had to know what happened.
Some people had problems with April Daniels writing style but I’m not one of those people. I think that if she didn’t have a good style then the book would have quickly become insufferable. Daniels has a very conversational tone to her writing, which is one of my favorite styles and the one I implement myself.  The whole thing was quite easy to read. The hardest part for me was remembering a certain characters name. That’s it. And the only reason I had trouble is because I misread it the first few times and thus got the wrong name stuck in my head.
Let’s get into the meat of this review. The issues. The first thing, and the biggest strike against Dreadnought, is the characters. There is no real depth. The only character that gets a somewhat fleshed out background is Danny but even with her, we don’t know much. She was born in a male body but believes she’s not a boy. She was on the football team before her transformation, she had known she was trans from a young age, her home life sucks, and she has one best friend. That’s all we really know. I would have loved to know more about what makes her tick, but we don’t get that. All we get a surface level glimpse into her. During the book we learn that, due to mean father, she has more self doubt and self hatred than anyone I can think of.  In fact, it gets really old. While it is realistic that someone with Danielle’s history had a multitude of issues, we hear about it so much that it just becomes background nose. It quickly turns from an honest cry for help into the girl who cried wolf. The wolf is there but no one is listening to you.
Also, there are quite a few main characters who are so transphobic that they might as well have “I hate trannys” tattooed on their forehead with red swastika armbands. I know that people like them really do exist and April Daniels once said that these characters were based off actual thing she’s heard and that’s happened to her, but good God, calm down a bit. There were actual transgendered people who wrote reviews on this book, who were treated terribly after coming out just like Danny, who thought it trans hate in this book was overdone.
Also, we have a weird flip side of an issue in this book. How many movies, books, TV shows, or other media are there that have a million male characters but not one good female character. It’s the opposite with Dreadnought. All of the male characters are either outrageously transphobic, or get mentioned so little that they’re barely a character. There are two, two male characters who aren’t either transphobic, or a straight up villain. And they only get mentioned a handful of times and only have a couple scenes throughout the book. Just because the lack of strong female characters in a huge problem in media, doesn’t make the opposite okay.

Picture courtesy of April Daniel’s Tumblr

What bothers me so much is that this book could have been great. It could have been an award winning masterpiece, but it falls short in one too many areas. What could have been an 11 out of 11 gets dinged one too many times. I wanted this to be better. I wanted this to be a fantastic first book in a series. But instead it’s mediocre with enough enjoyability to keep it from being a complete mess.
Dreadnought by April Daniels was more soapbox than soap opera. By that I mean I feel that too much of the book was used to champion the struggle of transgendered people and not enough time was spent on characterization and story so in the end, the whole thing suffered. I’m going to read the next two books in the series just because I liked this book enough to keep going, but as for my recommendation? If you want to read a book with a modern social justice topic, then this could be for you. If you want a good superhero book, pick up something else unless something about the premise really catches your eye.
Dreadnought by April Daniels gets a 5 out of 11

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