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Review: Aether – Molly J. Bragg

Aether - Molly J. Bragg

Genre: Superhero

LGBTQ+ Category: Gender Fluid, Lesbian, Trans MTF

Reviewer: Beáta

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About The Book

When Maggie Bennett agreed to take a break from her own research to be the test subject in an experiment, all she wanted to do was help her best friend Sierra secure grant funding for the new medical imaging machine she was developing. But when Sierra’s ex-boyfriend Garrett causes an explosion in the lab next door, Maggie finds herself gifted with Superpowers and in the custody of the High Guard, Sun City’s most prominent Superhero Team.

At first, it isn’t bad. The High Guard is helping her learn to use her powers while also working to keep her and Sierra from getting blamed for the explosion. And there’s Varsha, the cute speedster that keeps showing up at her room with homemade ice cream and staying for lesbian movie marathons. But when another series of explosions at the school where Maggie and Sierra work reveal that Garrett didn’t die in the accident that gave Maggie her powers and is part of a plot to reverse engineer banned alien technology with ties to her past, she finds herself pushed into the role of a reluctant Superhero.

Caught in a race against time, Maggie must master her new abilities, and use her skills as a scientist to figure out why Garrett and his accomplices want the technology – and who they intend to sell it to.

The Review

Aether is the third book in Molly J. Bragg’s series Hearts of Heroes. I have also done a review of the second part, Transistor. That one, I’d read completely in isolation. After finishing Aether, I finally went back and bought the first book, Scatter, so that this time, I’m able to talk about it in the context of the whole series.

Hearts of Heroes is, at the time of writing, a series of three loosely connected books. All three are superhero origin stories, and all three can be read in isolation, though they are all set in the same world, and the heroes from previous books always turn up in the new ones. The vibe is not at all dissimilar to the one of the early MCU in this regard. With the notable differences that 1) these are completely original stories, not adaptations of decades worth of comic book lore, and 2) everyone is a huge lesbian.

Maggie Bennett, the protagonist of Aether and the titular hero, starts the story severely disabled because of a car accident she got into with her family during one of the biggest superhero fights in history. She was the only survivor, and consequently doesn’t like superheroes very much. Until one day, a neighbor lab explodes while she and her friend are scanning Maggie’s brain. Maggie dies, still connected to the machine, which duplicates her consciousness, giving her a new set of superpowers and the ability to reshape her body to the abled version of herself she’d been always dreaming of. Maggie now has to not only learn how to deal with her newly found superpowers, she also needs to uncover the real source of the accident that killed her.

In my review about Transistor, I complained about the lack of interpersonal conflict and a certain tendency of the author to repeat words, mostly names and the verb “said”. I was very happy to see that Aether had neither of these problems. Scatter is also good in the personal conflict aspect, so I’m assuming that the problem was more with Transistor than with the author. Of the three books, I liked Aether the best. Whether or not this is about the actual quality, or just because the specifics of the story resonate more with me, I don’t know. 

I really loved Maggie as a character, and how this book was very science based, while the previous two leaned more into the magic part of the world. I also really appreciated the way her disability was treated. While she got magically healed and resurrected, her lived experience as a disabled woman didn’t go anywhere, and marks the character more than anything else. It influences the way she sees the world and her relationships with the other characters. In disabled circles, magically healing a character of their disability is a very unpopular trope, because it erases their identity. I didn’t feel like Maggie’s identity as a disabled woman was being erased, though others might of course have a different opinion.

As a superhero story, this book works much better than Transistor did. Maybe even better than Scatter. But action is not the biggest strength of these books, and all three work better as a lesbian romance in a superhero setting than a superhero story with a romance subplot.

As far as queerness goes, this entire series is simply wonderful. Every major superhero is an out and loud lesbian, and the more of them we get, the more variety there is to the way they experience being queer. As the other two books, Aether has a romance plot, this time between Maggie and her (presumed) straight friend on one hand, and Maggie and speedster Varsha on the other. They are the two depicted on the cover. I really loved their relationship. They hit it off immediately, and it was very easy to get on board with the idea of them as a couple. It was also very nice to see the characters from the previous two books, just peacefully enjoying their happy ever after with their loved ones. Another thing worth mentioning is that Bragg’s heroes feel very, very REAL, in that I could absolutely imagine them existing in the same queer social media circles as I am.

There are no explicit sex scenes in this book. (There are in the other two.)

I had some issues with Transistor. Apparently not enough to keep me from asking for this book by title, when I realized that it was going to be among the ones we can review, though. Now, having read all three parts of this series, I’m 100% sold. I love it. I love these heroes, I love the way their world expands with every book, and I really, really hope that Bragg will keep on writing more.

I would like to end with a note that my fellow reviewer Lucy has also read this book. Check out their review if you want a second opinion!

The Reviewer

Beáta Fülöp is an aspiring filmmaker and writer. She identifies as aromantic and asexual, and has an autistic Special Interest in the representation of minorities. One day, she will use this knowledge in her own stories. Until then, she is happy to sit here and give her opinion on other people’s hard work. 

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