4 out of 4 stars
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What do superpowers, a power hungry professor, and an anteater all have in common? The book Culture Man by Guy Cook; but, to find out exactly how, you'll just have to pick up a copy for yourself. This is a novel of around 200 pages and solidly falls within the other fiction genre.
Rob is a normal guy who has just split with his girlfriend Marianne. In going over to clean out his stuff from her place, he finds a secret lab in her basement. He accidentally ingests one of her test products. A few weeks later, Rob finds that his speed, strength and even eyesight have all increased exponentially. Meanwhile, someone known as the Velvet Vandal is going around Winchester stealing cultural landmarks. Who is the Velvet Vandal? Will he be stopped? What will Rob do with his new superpowers?
The summary of this book intrigued me with the promise of superpowers, villains, and great characters. Suprisingly enough, Mr. Cook delivers what he promises completely. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn't stop reading. I appreciated the fast-paced, action-packed plot with nary a dull moment.
At first, I expected it to resemble more of a Marvel movie or comic book. While there were bursts of great speed and even some human flight, there was much more to this book than that. First, there were a great many cultural references. The book is set in Winchester, England, and the author seemlessly works in references to museums and historical landmarks. If you know much about Winchester or love history, this might very well pull you into the story. If not, I guarantee you'll walk away having learned something about the history or culture of this city.
The second thing that made this book unique was the fact that this was almost more of a mystery than a book of superheroes. Rob does use the powers that he gains, but he relies more on his friends and detective work than the powers. This does two things for the tale. Primarily, it helps for those who really aren't into reading about superheroes because this really isn't about being superhuman. Also, it helps to bring a very believable element to the tale versus a boy bitten by a spider that goes out fighting crime.
One of the other elements that I enjoyed about the story was the ending. The author wraps everything up very neatly as far as this story goes. However, there is just enough left unsaid that there could be a follow-up or two to this story. For those that only want to read this book and not worry about having a sequel, I believe that they will still be satisfied with the end. But the possibilities are out there. That takes talent, in my opinion.
There were a few minor drawbacks to the story. One of these I have already mentioned. There are quite a few cultural references around the area of Winchester. Some will find this intriguing, but some will not want to read all of these references. For me, it was a little bit challenging as I have never been to England and live in the U.S. It really didn't hinder the story much, though, as the author worked these elements into the plot in a unique way.
Another element that was a bit challenging for me was the acceptance of these powers. Rob gains these powers suddenly, but his attitude seems quite unnatural. He just goes with the flow. Not only that but his friends just accept them as a normal part of life. Together he and his friends test his limits, but there is no sense of disbelief or even really awe at where these have come from. There only seems to be acceptance. Still, this too was almost acceptable as the author uses a good bit of science to explain how these changes happened.
Overall, I quite enjoyed reading Culture Man in spite of the few flaws that were mentioned above. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone I know, and I believe it would even hold the attention of a high school student (especially with the comic like element.) Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I applaud the author on completing his first full-length book in such a delightful way. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
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