Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Night Air by Ben Sears

In a series, it's customary to explain one's main characters - at the bare minimum, to give them names. Now, later on in the "Double+" series, those two guys - tween boy Plus Man and his flying robot sidekick Hank - do get names, since I saw those names in the fourth book, House of the Black Spot.

But neither the story itself or the book packaging gives those names in the first book, Night Air. The title page does say "A Double+ Adventure," so we at least have a series name, but, if we come to this book cold, as all readers did in 2016 and many will even now, we're left wondering.

It's not a big deal: this is an adventure story, and Sears throws us right into it. We follow Plus Man and Hank in a one-damn-thing-after-another plot, and barely have time to notice they never call each other by those names. I didn't realize it myself until I hit the end of the book, and then went back to see if the names were mentioned anywhere, eventually digging out my post on Black Spot to remind myself who they were.

We start with our two heroes cheating in a card game, in a run-down bar (with those Western-movie swinging doors, even) in some town somewhere, facing a suspicious one-eyed guy and what looks like his huge gang behind him. Getting away, in a big chase sequence through that town, is our introduction to these two guys and their (mildly SFnal) world - the equivalent of the pre-credits sequence in a caper movie.

The real plot starts when they get off the train in the next town, Apple City. They get a tip on some "valuable alloys" in a castle outside of town - which is obviously some kind of trap, and entirely a bad idea. But, as we've probably realized by now, Plus Man is the kind of energetic optimist who will dive into any stupid idea, confident that his skills and luck (and a few techy gadgets) will get him out the other side. Hank is more phlegmatic, but he's the sidekick, so his voice is only a warning.

So they do get to the castle. They do search it for alloys. They do find out it's a honeypot for people like them. They do run into people who wish bad things on them, and have power. There have been three Double+ books after this one; it's not a spoiler to say they get away.

Night Air is rougher than Black Spot, in both art and story - Sears's line is a little scratchier here, his dialogue a little more obvious - but it's still the same sort of thing, and Sears had energy and enthusiasm to burn back here at the start of his career. I don't think he planned this series for younger readers, but it's appropriate for them, in that classic Tintin boy-adventurer way, and just as appropriate for readers who are somewhat longer in the tooth as well.

I still haven't read the two Double+ books in between, but I expect I will: Sears is a fun creator, and the Double+ guys are engaging, with personalities that bounce well off each other. So far, my guess is that you could pick up any of these books you find first: they seem to be entirely independent, and not in any strong sequence. And, if you have any fond memories of Tintin or Scooby-Doo or any other meddling kids, you'll enjoy the Double+ adventures.

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