cover image Failstate


John W. Otte. Marcher Lord (, $15.99 trade paper (428p) ISBN 978-1-935929-48-2

Otte, a pastor, balances fantasy with teen hormones in a clever and page-turning debut. The narrator is 16-year-old Robin Laughlin, whose alter ego is Failstate. Failstate is one of a group of amateur superheroes competing on the reality TV show America’s Next Superhero to win a government license permitting him (or her) to fight crime. Rob’s older brother Ben, aka Gauntlet, is also competing, and Rob is sure his handsome and talented sibling will walk off with the honor. When one of the competitors is murdered, Rob makes it his mission to solve the crime. Ben is an obvious complication, and there’s also Elizabeth, a beautiful new girl at school who flirts with both Laughlin boys, to Rob’s confusion. Otte nails the concept—what kid hasn’t wanted to be a superhero?—and fleshes it out in a way that speaks sympathetically to teens’ struggles. The amusingly noirish atmosphere of the setting might draw older readers. Those allergic to Christianity might be put off by religious elements, but they are organic to the plot. Otte has a TV show full of sequel possibilities; here’s hoping. Ages 12–up. (Apr.) ■