Monday, June 29, 2009

Review – “Black and White” by Jackie Kessler & Caitlin Kittredge

It's the ultimate battle of good versus good.

They were best friends at an elite academy for superheroes in training, but now Callie Bradford, code name Iridium, and Joannie Greene, code name Jet, are mortal enemies. Jet is a by-the-book hero, using her Shadow power to protect the citizens of New Chicago. Iridium, with her mastery of light, runs the city’s underworld. For the past five years the two have played an elaborate, and frustrating, game of cat and mouse.

But now playtime’s over. Separately Jet and Iridium uncover clues that point to a looming evil, one that is entwined within the Academy. As Jet works with Bruce Hunter—a normal man with an extraordinary ability to make her weak in the knees—she becomes convinced that Iridium is involved in a scheme that will level the power structure of America itself. And Iridium, teaming with the mysterious vigilante called Taser, uncovers an insidious plot that’s been a decade in the making…a plot in which Jet is key.

They’re both right. And they’re both wrong. Because nothing is as simple as Black and White.
Besides being a terrific character study of two female superheroes in the early 22nd century, I loved the pervasive duality of this novel. First off there is the title, Black and White - polar opposites, interpreted easily as good vs. evil or light and dark. Interestingly the good girl is Jet (a deep black), whose power is shadows and the supposed bad girl is Iridium (a silvery white metal), whose power is light. The format of the tale is divided into alternating chapters from each characters POV and further grouped into sections which alternate between past and present. Each girl has a public superhero name and a personal name – Jet/Joanie and Iridium/Callie. Black and White has two authors Jackie Kessler writing Jet’s character and Caitlin Kittredge writing Iridium’s. There’s more but I think you get the picture.

Black and White follows the classic superhero genesis story on several levels. The core mystery that fuels the plot involves the truth and conspiracy about the origin of the superheroes. As the story opens, Jet and Iridium are on opposite sides – Jet the corporate poster girl for the superheroes and Iridium a rogue on the most wanted list, but they weren’t always that way. Via the flashbacks we learn they were originally close friends at the academy, the quiet conservative one (Jet) and the brash extrovert (Iridium) in a case of opposites attract (again that duality).

I loved getting to know these two complex but wounded characters. This is where the novel is anything but black and white. We share in their doubts and fears, secrets and tragedies, and hopes and desires. I cheered for Jet to open her eyes and shake off her unthinking obedience to the Corporation and for Iridium to acknowledge that at heart she really was one of the good guys despite her public reputation. And most of all I wanted them to reconcile. Black and White does an admirable job of making us care about Jet and Iridium and their friendship. Here is an example of Iridium’s reaction at the academy when she begins to realize her relationship with Jet is coming undone –
Iridium slumped back in her seat, tears that she hadn't shed in her entire time at the Academy brimming. No matter how much it hurt, she never cried. But this was a different kind of pain, an insidious, ephemeral type she couldn't guard against.
If this was being a superhero, she didn't want it.
Fans of comic books will enjoy the action and the superhero world-building along with the many characters names and original super abilities. The concept of the superheroes being managed by a corporation, where each hero is a brand, is also an intriguing treatment leading to exploration of themes of potential abuses of power and exploitation. Having been a fan of the male dominated DC comics in my day, well except for Wonder Woman, the gender reversal here is more than welcome. As I read Black and White I couldn’t help hearing the Superman (It's Not Easy) song by Five For Fighting in my head and reflecting that the lyrics also nicely describe the essential human core of our heroines Jet and Iridium.
It may sound absurd
But don’t be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed
But won’t you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me
There are many revelations by the conclusion of Black and White and both Jet and Iridium gain an entirely new perspective of where they stand in the grander scheme of things. Their story continues next summer in the sequel Shades of Gray and I plan to be along for the ride. Black and White is superb character-driven storytelling with no prerequisite for comic book appreciation needed.

Official Jackie Kessler Website
Official Caitlin Kittredge Website
The Icarus Project Website

Ballantine Spectra
Published: June 2, 2009
ISBN #: 9780553386318
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 452

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1.

The Icarus Project:

  1. Black and White (June 2009)
  2. Shades of Gray (July 2010)


  1. I have a way to go before I get this one in the UK, but I really do want it!

  2. Great review! Glad you loved it as well! I want to reread it when my pile of books decreases. It was just soooooooooooooo good! Those lyrics fit this book perfectly! Thanks for posting that. I wish it wasnt such a long wait till the next book!

  3. Doug,

    Thank you for the review. :)


  4. Hagelrat I am sure you will eat it up being a comic fan, but it is a terrific read.

    Rachael you were spot on with your earlier review. I loved Jet and Iridium. Kessler and Kittredge are a knockout combo.

    You're welcome Michelle!


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