I have given Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J Maas a ☆☆☆☆ rating. It is Book 3 of the DC Icons series. It is a Superhero Fantasy Retelling. Random House Book for Young Readers publishes it. It was published Aug 7, 2018.
The blurb reads:
When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play. It’s time to see how many lives this cat really has. . . .
Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Batwing is left to hold back the tide of notorious criminals. Gotham City is ripe for the taking.
Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove he has what it takes to help people in his role as Batwing. He targets a new thief on the prowl who seems cleverer than most. She has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and together they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman may be Batwing’s undoing.
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As always, my reviews may contain spoilers. I say may because what’s a spoiler to you may not be a spoiler for me.
I’m a huge fan of Selina Kyle and Catwoman; more so, the idea and concept of her as a character. So, I was a little sceptical when I heard Sarah J Maas was going to write a retelling of her story for the DC Icons series. And everyone knows how much I dislike her pseudo-feminist works. But, I am also in love with her skill to tell a good story.
Catwoman: Soulstealer is classic Maas: there’s the tortured and angst-ridden lead actors, the extremely tragic back stories and witty yet endearing sidekicks. While most of the time, this formula can be a little cringey, it works in the DC Icons series because what superhero is not incredibly brooding, with a tragic backstory to make you roll your eyes?
Catwoman: Soulstealer begins in Selina’s youth, caring in any possible way she can for her sick sister, Maggie. After landing in some trouble with the police, she is recruited by the League of Assassins and trained to become one of them. Fast forward, she is back in Gotham on a mission and to execute it, she teams up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. But of course, no villain is complete without a superhero and so enters Luke Fox a.k.a. Batwing. And when a boy and a girl are put together in a Maas novel, what happens?
What truly makes this Maas
(and equally as eye-roll worthy) is how she tries to find a balance between making it a book about friendships, family and finally, the romance. While this formula might work in a serial, trying to cram all of it into a 300+ page book makes for a story that jumps from one stepping stone to another: it’s clear she’s trying to cover a couple of bases.
And in going with the stepping stone analogy, all the stones are headed in a singular direction: land. The pieces ultimately merge into a single conclusion. It’s like trying to watch a 2 hour Marvel movie without any sequels lined up: it’s too neat, it’s too formulaic and it’s too easy. This lends itself to being predictable and a little boring. For 50% of the book, the pacing was incredibly slow and I wanted to give up and read something else more interesting that would keep me on my toes. It was just Catwoman/Selina Kyle committing crime with both Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as well as navigating being Holly Vanderhees.
Furthermore, Maas does something here that is rather infuriating and pandering: she tries to be hip and cool and insert as many trendy social-political references she can find from faceless LGBT pairings (these people have no consequence to the story/plot) to police brutality, racial profiling and specifically, the mistreatment of black people. To make matters worse, her leading male is Luke Fox, a black superhero and she makes him talk about the struggles he faces as a black man. While diversity is cool and great, Maas has no place speaking about coloured people and telling their stories. She basically pulled a JK Rowling.
In typical Maas fashion, a lot of the book is spent in the characters feelings but in a bad way: it got to a point where it was telling, instead of showing. There is also a level of excessive torture not uncommon to the DC fandom so I’ll give a pass on it there.
That isn’t to say that Catwoman: Soulstealer is a bad book. Like all Maas books, it is entertaining and makes for an easy read once the action really kicks off. I have always loved Selina Kyle, both as Catwoman and as an abstract concept of anti-hero. And while Catwoman is the sexy and intelligent woman we know and love, she’s not just sultry; she loves, she cares, she is vulnerable, she is human. If I say too much, I will spoil the book but I didn’t truly see the ending coming (I usually never do anyway!) and it redeemed all the boring, clichéd and awkward parts in the beginning.
I also really loved going into the relationship between the three women: Selina, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. The friendship is not unique to the book and is already a running theme in the comics/fandom, but I think it was such a nice touch to humanise them ever further and Maas does a great job making me actually care about their friendships. I didn’t care much for Selina/Catwoman being labelled as the ringleader because both Ivy and Harley are able to hold their own in the comics so seeing them as little puppies following Selina is a little grating.
Objectively speaking, I’ll be the first to admit that Maas’ rendition of Selina Kyle might not be the most endearing: in fact, I feel like I barely know her besides the fact that she loves her younger sister, her friends and she’s incredibly resilient. But, it’s because of these very qualities that I feel Selina Kyle spoke to me. Family comes first for me, I am incredibly loyal to my friendships and the very fact that I don’t cry when something disastrous has happened (think car accident!), I’m pretty resilient. I have zero flexibility or gymnastic qualities though haha.
While of course, this is Selina Kyle’s story but Luke Fox was robbed! He was reduced to being a boy toy who fights crime, has PTSD and loves his family. I’m not the most familiar with Luke Fox’s story in the comics but he deserved better than being just a boy to prop up Selina Kyle/Catwoman. They both deserved better.
Novellas and shorter books are not SJM’s forte: the complexity she develops in both her characters and plots leaves a lot of questions in Catwoman: Soulstealer. And, I wish Maas had picked one plot line to stick to be it the friendship line or the romance angle because not enough attention was given to either relationship and both ended up being slightly underdeveloped. But books are also meant to be entertaining and Catwoman: Soulstealer is entertaining, fun and a wild ride once it really peaks.
Thank you to Times Reads and the publisher for providing me with an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. This review edition may differ from the final edition.