In my reviews thus far for Matthew LeDrew’s good – but inconsistent – Black Womb series, I lament that I am often left with more questions than answers. The latest book, Becoming, does have mysteries of its own but finally places some of the puzzle’s missing pieces. The way everything comes together, LeDrew’s continued evolution from pure storyteller to writer and a smashing good tale make this 2011 release the best of the saga to date – and arguably the best Engen Books have published.
At this point, you should be familiar with the story’s background and elements so I shall focus solely on the content of this novel. Consider yourself warned.
So, we visit Coral Beach for the seventh time but Xander Drew and pals are anything but lucky. Xander learns more about his past and settles into his present – until his future changes in the blink of an eye. A father passes his breaking point and seeks ‘justice’ with his no-good associates. Finally, a comatose Adam Genblade lives his greatest nightmare over-and-over.
I must commend the tying of many loose threads. In fact, some frustrating aspects of past books, particularly Ghosts of the Past, were lessened though not absolved. Here is a breakdown of what we learn in this novel: a little about Xander Drew’s back story, with hints of more to come; the makeup of the local Tee’s gang; Engen, in particular the sheer enormity of the organization; Circe, the rival that engaged in a biotechnological arms race with Engen . . . and more.
The most notable element that falls within the “more” classification is Genblade. This book elevated him from smarmy, one-note killer to an actual character. His dreams, his past relationships . . . we effectively see his origin. Suffice to say that this novel’s title, Becoming, has more than one meaning.
I’ve never always understood Genblade but I could accept his actions. There were more troublesome members of the cast, most notably Xander’s immediate circle. This time, I liked – or at least understood – nearly every character.
Unfortunately, some flaws do pull Becoming down from even loftier heights. Some odd and possibly outdated pop culture references aren’t necessary to the story and could be removed without affecting anything of import. A few conversations could be moved around to improve pacing, especially during an explosive sequence within the school in the book’s latter half.
The most noticeable blemishes occur at the end: a bit of medical inaccuracy could be jarring to some people. Furthermore, there are a disproportionate number of ‘women in refrigerators’ (1) in the Black Womb series. On a similar note, this book also has a case of ‘dead man defrosting’ (2). I suspect the latter rule won’t flip and apply to the major character who passed away in this novel. Do these detract from my personal enjoyment? Not really, but I would like to see LeDrew experiment with a different MacGuffin in the future.
Becoming is certainly impressive: it closes the right doors and guides us toward exciting new paths. In November, the next volume will be published and I am more confident in the future of this series than I was a few books back – maybe more confident than I ever have been. 4/5
(1) A ‘woman in the refrigerator’ is a woman who has been victimized and/or brutalized to propel the story forward. Often, it is her suffering that prompts a direct meeting between the hero and the baddie of the month. This can occur to male characters as well, hence the term “stuffed into the fridge.”
(2) ‘Dead man defrosting’ refers to how male characters tend to return – from the dead, a coma, etc. – rejuvenated, revitalized and in full control of their powers. No muscle atrophy, broken bones or damaged organs here, just unadulterated ass-kicking.