Book Review of “Masks: Evolution” by Hayden Thorne

TITLE: Masks: Evolution
AUTHOR: Hayden Thorne
ISBN: 978-1-60370-558-5
PUBLISHER: Prizm Books

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

While his friends continue to develop their newfound powers, Eric begins to feel the effects of being the odd man out. Around him, things go from bad to worse for Vintage City as the Shadow Puppet, a new super-villain, steps into the Devil’s Trill’s shoes and wreaks havoc with his army of killer mannequins. Magnifiman, Calais, and Spirit Wire have their hands full, with the Puppet proving to be much more slippery than the Trill and leaving the good guys scrambling for clues. Work-related stress begins to creep into Eric’s relationship with Peter, which reaches the breaking point when Peter takes a new superhero under his wing, a fire-wielding teenage girl, whose awesome powers could make her a better match for Peter.

To make matters worse, there are the strange headaches, sleepwalking, and nightmares that haunt Eric, as well as the Devil’s Trill’s call for him to take his place as a super-villain sidekick. There’s also Brenda Whitaker, her mysterious past, and her sudden desire to help Eric as he struggles to figure himself out and make the right choice before his parents ask him again about his awful Geometry and Chemistry grades. Can Eric handle the stress? Find out in this second book of the Masks trilogy.

Thorne continues the Masks series with Evolution, which pits superheroes Magnifiman and Calais against two new supervillains while following the boring, average life of Eric Plath, boyfriend to Calais’ alter ego, Peter Barlow. As the book’s title suggests, this story is an evolution of the characters ~ Eric, his boyfriend Peter, and their gal pal Althea, in many ways. The dynamics of their relationships are forced to change when a new supervillain appears on the scene — as well as a new female superhero, to whom Peter instantly connects. The only person who doesn’t have any superpowers is Eric, a fact that becomes more and more evident as his friends seem to drift away from him.

I thoroughly enjoyed this installment in the series, perhaps more so than the first book. Once I started reading, I literally couldn’t put it down, and I raced through the final few chapters with my heart in my throat, on the edge of my seat, hoping against hope that somehow everything would be tied together neatly at the end, and hating that I’d have to wait for the final book in the series to see that happen.

Here we get a visceral account of Eric’s personal demons ~ the normal pangs and problems that plague adolescence are compounded by a boyfriend who is too busy saving the city to focus on their relationship and a nagging feeling of incompetence that leaves Eric wishing for any small thing that might make him “fit in.” Thorne tackles these difficult emotions with finesse, leaving the reader as frustrated as Eric over Peter’s distance, and by the end of the story, we sympathize completely with Eric. Making us understand and, dare I say, condone his actions in the final two chapters is nothing short of brilliant writing. When you read the story, you’ll see what I mean.

In this book, as in the first, there were many phrases that stood out to me, bringing the story to life. My favorite line was one where, after a terse standoff between Eric and Peter, Eric finds a rose in his school locker from his boyfriend:

“When I saw it, the universe started all over again. The slate was wiped clean, humanity’s sins were all forgiven, the greenhouse effect never happened, and the earth was only two days old.”

Such observations capture the immediacy of teenage love and angst perfectly, making Eric more human, more believable, and, in the end, easier to relate to for readers of all ages.

Eric’s signature humor is refined in this book, as is his raging libido. He still harbors a secret crush on Peter’s older brother, Magnifiman, and when he sees the superhero on TV:

“You will ~ and I swear this ~ feel the hard hand of justice tightening around you!”

My breath caught, my cheeks heating up. “You promise?”

Thorne’s writing is fresh and open, indicative of the characters and respective of their ages without being condescending or “too old,” as some YA writers tend to be. Eric and his friends are drawn very well, their dialogue believable, their actions true to life. Eric’s emotions hit the mark, detailing a feeling of loneliness and ostracism to which we can all relate.

Though the main character is a gay teenager, Evolution will appeal to superhero fans of all ages and sexualities. What starts out as a fun story turns into an emotional roller coaster ride as Eric deals with issues that resonate with us all, and while we may not agree with his actions as the story progresses, we understand his motives completely. If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you’ll love this second installment. And, if you’re like me, you’ll be waiting with bated breath for the final story.