Book Review: Vanguard Prime, Goldrush by Steven Lochran

Elite superhero team Vanguard Prime has a new recruit . . .

Sam Lee was just a normal teenager . . . until the disastrous emergence of his superpowers. Now he has the chance to join his childhood heroes and become the youngest-ever member of Vanguard Prime. But when the time comes, will Sam have what is takes to save the world?

Goldrush is an interesting meld of traditional comic book archetypes in a traditional novel format. I like when new formats and forums for stories are explored, as I always see it as an opportunity to bring an established audience into a new mode of reading. For your stringent we-only-read-comic-book readers, it is a chance to explore the familiar tropes and story lines (good versus evil, superheroes versus villains) found in their favourite comic, but in a novel-based format. The familiarity of the story, and character types, go a long way to lessening the initial ‘overwhelming’ feeling a comic reader could possibly experience with the novel format. The same can be said for traditional novel readers; comics often seem a foreign land too scary to make that first dip into.

Identifying with the protagonist is essential for any reader, regardless of format. Lochran does a fantastic job of leaving Sam Lee, our protagonist, completely description-less. I don’t know what colour eyes he has, or the colour of his hair, or indeed the colour of his skin. He is any boy (alas, we haven’t found ourselves in a genderless literary world just yet), at any moment, in any place. This is incredibly powerful, both in avoiding ‘othering’ in the literary form, and in enabling the reader to imagine themselves in the starring role. I was, therefore, disappointed that the front cover for Goldrush gives Sam a face.  To be fair, anytime I see a face on a children’s book I’m disheartened. (I’m further disheartened by the amount of blond-haired blue-eyed white female protagonists in the world, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

As well as a traditional good-versus-evil story, Goldrush explores a different coming-of-age story, where a teenage boy is thrust from the world he knows into a (very adult) world of superheroes. Very akin to how high school feels to those of Sam’s age after the safety of primary school. The uncertainty of your surroundings brings forth doubts of the self. Questions of who am I? what am I? am I a good person?  are particularly relevant to teenagers as they navigate the murky waters of morality in teen life. Take the ‘origins’ story of Sam’s powers: they manifest in a public space, beyond his control, where he accidentally hurts those close to him. While a great analogy to any early teenager, awash with rioting hormones. Sam is also forced to question whether he can ever perceive himself as a good person after this incident, however accidental. Does one act define him for the future? Thankfully Sam learns that this one incident does not define who he is. Rather a good lesson for any teen.

Goldrush is a very accessible novel for middle grade and young teenage readers. The story line is clear, familiar and contains enough life lessons to ensure the readership is learning along the way. All wrapped up with a great sense of humour.

 

Steven Lochran is November’s Writer-in-residence for inside a dog.

You can also enter the competition to win a signed copy of Vanguard Prime, Goldrush on inside a dog.

 

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