The Lily Cafe is thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the book blog tour for We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen! Thank you to Mara Lawery and Justine Sha at MIRA for both the opportunity and a review e-copy.
Title: We Could Be Heroes
Author: Mike Chen
Publication date: January 26, 2021
Genre: Superhero Fiction, Fantasy
An emotional adventure about two misfits who have extraordinary powers, but have forgotten who they were before. The vigilante and the villain must team up to stop a mad scientist who threatens the city, while trying to figure out who they really are.
Jamie woke up two years ago in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to who he might be, and also with the power to read other people’s memories. In the meantime, he’s become the Mind Robber, holding up banks for quick cash. Similarly, Zoe is searching for her past, and using her new extraordinary abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And occasionally beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.
When the two meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize they are each other’s best chance at discovering what happened to them. The quest will take them deep into a medical conspiracy that is threatening to spill out and wreak havoc on their city, and maybe the country. As the two get past their respective barriers, they’ll realize that their friendship is the thing that gives them the greatest power.
My husband must be rubbing off on me because I don’t normally read anything about superheroes. But I found something strangely compelling about a flawed villain and a flawed hero needing to team up against a mad scientist. Even though Mike Chen’s sophomore novel wasn’t one I was interested in reading, I did enjoy his first (Here and Now and Then), so was eagerly awaiting his third to see what it would be about. I loved everything about the book description, so, when I was invited to take part in the book blog tour, I jumped. And I’m so glad I did because I had a hard time putting this one down! There’s just something about Chen’s books that speaks so simply and so clearly about being human.
An Unlikely Friendship
Two years ago, Jamie woke up with no memory of who he was, but a note told him he could read memories. Uninterested in who he had been and figuring out why he had no prior memories, he decided to get enough money to afford a comfortable life on a tropical island – by robbing banks as the overly dramatic Mind Robber.
Hot on his heels, though, is the Throwing Star. In another part of town, Zoe Wong woke up two years ago with no memory of who she was or what had happened. She just had a note telling her to push herself. And she discovered she had a ton of superhero abilities, which she decided to use to beat up criminals as the Throwing Star.
Unexpectedly thrown together after rescuing their memory loss and dementia support group from a fire, they decide to team up to find out who Zoe is and to get Jamie to his island oasis. Their scant clues lead them to a rehabilitation center, but all is not as it seems, and they find they are the only thing standing in the way of catastrophe to San Delgado.
Part fiction, part fantasy, part superhero origin story, I couldn’t put down We Could Be Heroes. Even though I was a little worried about where the story was going about halfway through, I loved this book from start to finish. Superhero fiction isn’t normally my cup of tea, but I was intrigued by the villain with a conscious and the superhero with alcohol and anger issues. I mean, what could go wrong?
Turns out Jamie and Zoe were brilliant together. I adored the story of their friendship. I loved that there were zero romantic undertones to this story and that it just focused on two unlikely people becoming good friends. The care they showed each other, the trust they developed, was gorgeous. When so many books are more focused on romantic relationships, We Could Be Heroes is like a breath of fresh air.
The story tugged at my heart, made me feel for all of the characters, got my heart pounding with all the breathless action and danger, and made me smile. Honestly, this is one of those books I’ll be talking about for a long, long time even though superhero fiction is absolutely not my thing. It’s really Jamie and Zoe that did it for me. Theirs is the kind of friendship that comes once in a lifetime, and I’ll be stuck on it for quite some time.
But, yes, there’s a ton of action, tons of exploring super powers, lots of secrets being peeled open like an onion. There’s always something at every turn, something that either slots a piece of the puzzle into place or changes my perspective of what’s going on. I don’t think I found a single dull moment.
A Hero and a Villain Without Their Memories
We Could Be Heroes tells the story of Jamie and Zoe, two people who have had their memories taken from them and who also happen to have super powers. They both had such unique personalities that, in some ways, seemed switched with their villain and superhero personas, but were so much fun when put together.
Jamie is the levelheaded, rational, planner. For a villain, he cares an awful lot about others and carries guilt around like a heavy cloak. He’s a villain for purely personal reasons and doesn’t want to actually hurt anyone. He turns out to have a huge heart. The only thing that puzzled me about him was his lack of interest and curiosity in who he really was. But I loved that he was the calm one, the one who wouldn’t do anything without a plan. His theatrics were also a lot of fun with how over the top and rehearsed they were, but, really, that’s Jamie.
Zoe is the rash, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants superhero. She isn’t particularly good at using her abilities all the time, but that might be because of a bit of a drinking problem. At her heart, though, she’s incredibly lost and feeling adrift because she has no history. Without knowing who she is, she’s finding it difficult to find a present and future, and her desperation drives her towards the one person who can help her, even though she’s made it her mission to track him down and bring him to justice. Probably with her fists. Because everything works out when fists are involved.
There are a few other notable characters, each with their own unique stories and personalities, but We Could Be Heroes really is centered around Jamie and Zoe. Everyone else adds a new layer, a new color to the story, enlarging it and making it that much more richer.
A Fictional San Francisco
We Could Be Heroes is set in San Delgado, which is really a thinly disguised San Francisco. For me, it was the bridge that gave it away. Otherwise, it’s more of a large collection of buildings divided into different areas one might find in a big city. There’s public transportation and parks and a dock, which Jamie leads Zoe to in the most ingenious way, proving that both of them have quite incredible brains.
There’s also quite a large, wooded, secluded area where a major part of the story and action occurs. It feels industrial and threatening at the same time with secrets buried inside. The part where it’s well-guarded by very well-trained professionals doesn’t help matters, either. The actual machinery in that building was well beyond me, but it all sounded kind of cool.
Honestly, the setting is probably the weakest part of the story. It’s there because the characters need a backdrop, though it is used quite well when necessary. It’s also a familiar city to Chen, making it an easy choice for a light sci-fi/fantasy novel so it feels both familiar and a bit different.
A Gorgeous Story About Friendship
We Could Be Heroes is one of the stories I can’t get out of my head. Jamie and Zoe really did it for me. They’re brilliant together and the whole story tugged at my heartstrings in just the right way at just the right times. There’s incredible depth to two characters who have almost no history, who are thrown together out of need, and a deal. Overall, it’s a beautiful and incredible story of friendship without even the slightest hint of romance. It’s gorgeously done and resonates long after the last page has been read. There’s a lot to take away from this novel, from who we are as individuals to what we mean to each other.
How many cups of tea will you need?
About Mike Chen
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter
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Thank you to Mara Lawery and Justine Sha at MIRA for a review copy and the opportunity to take part in the book blog tour for We Could Be Heroes. All opinions expressed are my own.