Panopolis: Where There’s Smoke – Cari Z
Panopolis is a rough place to be an average Joe. I came here looking for adventure and excitement, but nobody cares about one more normal guy in a city filled with super-powered heroes. The closest I’ve come to glory is working in a bank that villains often rob.
But then I maybe accidentally-on-purpose helped a villain escape the hero who was trying to save the day. Imagine my shock when, a week later, that villain asked me out for coffee. One date turned into more, and now I’m head over heels in love with Raul.
Falling in love with the guy dubbed the Mad Bombardier isn’t without its downsides, though. I’ve had to deal with near-death encounters with other villains, awkwardly flirtatious heroes who won’t take no for an answer, and a lover I’m not sure I can trust. It’s getting to the point where I know I’ll have to make a choice: side with the heroes, or stand fast by my villain.
Either way, I think my days as a normal guy are over.
Panopolis: Where There’s Fire – Cari Z
Making a name for myself as a Villain in Panopolis is hard work. Six months ago, my boyfriend broke me out of jail. Now he’s spending most of his time defending our turf against other Villains he accidentally freed along with me. And my new psychic powers are not only impossible to control, but they’re also giving me migraines.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. My skills are improving every day, and Raul—aka the Mad Bombardier—and I have never been happier. That is, until my first solo job is interrupted by a mysterious woman who tells me that Raul has been kidnapped by a ruthless new Villain. The only way to free him is to do a job for Maggot, a man with scary ideas and an even scarier superpower.
I can’t go to the cops or a Hero for help. Odds are they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. If I fail, Raul will be killed. If I succeed, we’ll both be bound to a man who’ll stop at nothing to put Panopolis on the path to civil war.
It looks like the only way to win is to take out the competition.
When I was working as an ESL tutor, my Japanese student and I talked about anime. I told him I was almost always fascinated with the villains and asked why anime stories usually show the villain’s backstory. I asked because most western cartoons don’t do that. He told me it was because the Japanese believe an enemy today could be a friend tomorrow.
Panopolis by Cari Z is a great example of of the shifting lines between villainy and heroism. Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. This underrated series deconstructs the superhero and supervillain tropes.
I came into this thinking I would get a cartoonish, comical romp, something along the lines of Despicable Me or The Incredibles. I got a dark, sinister tale of highly unethical science, mind control and oppression, torture and terrorism, politics and conspiracies, and the collateral damage that is conveniently ignored in the name of saving the day.
Panopolis is a mega-city with an unusually high number of supers. Time-honored tradition dictates it’s always heroes vs. villains. The good guys have corporate sponsorships and all the perks. The baddies are mostly after money and make the heroes look good. The fights get a lot of tv coverage, usually as entertainment.
Where There’s Smoke opens the series with a bank heist by one of the city’s most notorious villains, The Mad Bombardier. It happens to be the bank where Edward Dingle works. He’s a kind, mild-mannered guy. So kind he couldn’t resist covertly helping the very villain robbing his bank because he saw The Mad Bombardier needed a hand.
Intrigued, The Mad Bombardier, a.k.a. Raul, sought Edward out again. Their first date was cute! They eventually started dating. The story breezed through the early parts of their relationship and fast-forwarded to them being an established couple.
Raul is a total sweetheart, and his costume is supercool! He became a bomb expert due to a rather atypical upbringing. He wears a helmet with numbers counting down. It looks ominous, but it’s actually his little joke. He’s also the only top villain with no body count under his belt so far.
Book 1 is a 2-hour audiobook, so the plot moved fast. The story is told from the 1st-person POV of Edward, tackling the moral dilemma and the consequences of dating a supervillain. It shakes an already precarious situation by having that supervillain’s superhero nemesis crushing on Edward and persistently asking him out. Edward is also slowly learning what those corporate sponsorships really entail.
I love how the story blurs the lines. Along with Edward, we question who is the hero? Who is the villain? Who is the criminal? Who is the victim? And who the hell is really in charge? This novella laid out a fantastic foundation for the follow-up. It’s best to have the next book on hand before starting this because the ending turned Edward’s world upside down. You’ll be grabbing that sequel immediately!
Where There’s Fire picks up on the aftermath of all those explosions. This is where those foreboding thoughts about Panopolis became harsh reality. What was only hinted at and glimpsed in the periphery came out in the open when Edward and Raul met with the villains. It’s where the series became truly dark.
It’s also the part where I was seriously torn. One hand, I felt sorry for these villains because of what they had gone through. It was pretty nasty! I also understood their cause, their fight to right the wrongs done to their ilk. But then, them being what they are, they get a little too Machiavellian. Poor Raul had to suffer for it!
This is the part where Edward embraced who he really was. How he saved Raul was brilliantly executed! It’s like the man conquered the city by making people feel and being his kind self. He was awesome!!!
This is longer than the 1st book, so things were more fleshed out. The tension is tight throughout the story. The suspense ratcheted up several notches when our boy Edward took on the entire city. Edward’s trick on the boss fight scene was super clever!
I tried not to give too many details here because it’s best to go in knowing only the minimum details. The Cari Z books I’ve read are those she has written with L.A. Witt. I need to read more of her solo works, as well, because she’s a very talented writer. I could tell she really knows her stuff when it comes to supers.
Panopolis is the perfect example of that. It is an action-packed, sometimes sweet, thought-provoking, and uniquely fascinating take on heroes and villains. A potent reminder that with great powers comes great headaches.
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to buy your copy of Where There’s Smoke and Where There’s Fire. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.
The Formicary: Chrysalis – S.E. Harmon
A gunshot to the head is bad enough. Waking up with amnesia is far worse. I learn that the hard way when I wake up in the hospital, my memory practically wiped. I don’t know why someone wants me dead. Hell, I don’t even know my name. They say my name is Christian Cross. Too bad that name means nothing to me.
I haven’t forgotten everything, though. Grayson Laurie has always been my kryptonite, and it would take more than a bullet to the brain to forget him. He assures me that I’m imagining the distance between us, but I know better. I just don’t know how to fix it. I console myself that at least I’ve reached rock bottom and things can’t get worse…until they do.
My life is a tangled mess of lies and deceit. The more I learn about myself, the less I want to know. I want nothing more than an honest future with Gray, but the past isn’t about to let me go without a fight.
Fortunately, I’m starting to realize that fighting is my specialty.
To paraphrase one of the characters, amnesia is something we mostly see in Days Of Our Lives. I find this trope cheesy because of how it’s overused in soaps. But the blurb of the book immediately piqued my interest.
Chrysalis is the first book of The Formicary duology. Christian Cross wakes up in the hospital with no memory of anything, not even his name. The only thing he remembers is the memory of Dr. Grayson Laurie, his boyfriend. The hospital staff told him he was shot in the head. Gray told Chris, the amnesiac ghosted him four years ago and that the doctor is now in another relationship. To make matters worse, some very dangerous people were after Chris, who had no idea why.
The book follows Chris as he traces clues to his identity, fights off the bad guys and wins back the love of his life. Rather than a rebirth, as the title might suggest, this is a return to an old secret life he kept from Gray.
The story is told from a first-person POV. One thing that stood out is that Chris is prone to unnecessary jokes that are not exactly funny or witty. The writing is fast-paced and tight enough to keep the momentum going, but Chris’ little asides don’t really add anything.
However, there is nothing cheesy with how the amnesia trope was deployed. This is one of the better uses of the trope. It worked exceptionally well with the mystery. It is exactly as the blurb says, and I was completely hooked!
I really enjoyed tagging along with Chris as he stumbles upon the bits and pieces of his old life. There were big hints, like the extra body parts and ninja fighting skills, that helped me suss out who or what Christian is. But even knowing that, the air of intrigue and anticipation remained high until the end. Also, despite his bad jokes, the man is an entertaining narrator.
The second chance romance was also wonderfully executed! There’s some push and pull between the MCs because Gray was hurt, and Christian might disappear again. But Chris’ devotion to Gray was pretty obvious from the start, and it was also clear that Gray still has strong feelings for his ex. Their chemistry jumps off the page! I loved watching them find each other again and again.
Gray’s current boyfriend is a non-entity who soon exited so there’s no cheating here. The book is not a standalone. It ends with a cliffhanger so best to have the second book on hand before starting.
Chrysalis has mystery, action, yeah okay, maybe some humor, a couple of painful separations, and long-overdue reunions. It is about a man looking for answers. It delivers those answers in one suspenseful, gripping package. It’s not the most memorable but it’s certainly worth remembering.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to buy your copy of Chrysalis. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.