My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 272 pages
Release date: 2 January 2018
The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.
One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.
Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.
In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.
I read Batman: Nightwalker in probably the best setting to read this kind of novel, on a flight with nothing else to do. It’s an okay book without glaring flaws, but little more than that. Marked by Marie Lu’s dry writing and signature tropes, Nightwalker is an unmemorable novel that leaves the reader with the feeling of “been there, done that.”
If I was given this and Wonder Woman: Warbringer without knowing which was Lu’s and which Bardugo’s, I would easily be able to tell that Nightwalker was the Lu story. It has all her narrative staples–prodigy orphan protagonists, morally ambiguous sometime enemies with a spark of attraction, young adults fighting an oppressive society. The relationship between Bruce and Madeleine is just a cross between June/Day of Legend and Emika/Hideo of Warcross, the former contributing its enemies-to-lovers dynamic and the latter its premise of a tech billionaire clashing with a working-class girl who’s a brilliant hacker.
There’s also the corny pseudo-intellectualism from Legend, where characters’ banter about obscure trivia is meant to show how smart they are. The problem is this is that thanks to how predictable the entire plot of Nightwalker is, Bruce Wayne, supposedly a genius, ends up appearing an idiot when he doesn’t pick up on hints in the text that the reader is practically hit on the head with. Nothing happens that you won’t see coming–the book has some reveals that are meant to be shocking but are instead ham-handedly telegraphed, because the foreshadowing has all the subtlety of an air horn.
Lots of little things in the book are kind of unrealistic. For example, Eliza Eto being sentenced to death for killing the fake doctor who left her son to die. I’m fairly sure that not even America hands out the death penalty that easily to a beautiful (white) woman avenging her innocent child. Then there’s Bruce being sentenced to community service at an asylum in a city supposedly so corrupt that the rich can get away with anything. It’s not entirely convincing, and you wonder if Lu couldn’t have come up with a better reason for Bruce to be in Arkham Asylum. At the end of the book, one big reveal feels thrown in just for the sake of shock value, as well as to avoid making another character the villain. I hate nitpicking at plot holes, but when there are this many elements with wafer-thin justification, they become hard to ignore.
I’ll be bold and venture a guess that Bruce and Madeleine are by far the characters that Lu cared most about, possibly the only ones in fact. Madeleine, especially, is a consummate femme fatale better suited to a blockbuster movie than a YA novel. Sure, these are superhero novels, but I’d argue that readers want from books much more intricate character development and nuanced realism than moviegoers want from superhero films. Yet Madeleine is almost too good to be true:
“She didn’t look a day older than Bruce himself, sitting languidly with her head leaning back against the wall, her expression empty like a doll’s, her eyes staring out at nothing in particular. They were very, very dark eyes. Her hair was long and straight and so black that its highlights appeared blue, and her skin was so pale under the light that it looked dusted with flour. Her mouth was small and rosy, her face heart-shaped, her neck arched and slender.”
This is Bruce’s first impression of her, the entire Romantic sonnet of it. Yikes. Not only does no 18-year-old think like that about someone they’ve just seen for the first time, it reads too much like an author waxing poetic about her favourite character.
All things considered, Leigh Bardugo writes a novel that answers the “why should you care” question much better in Wonder Woman: Warbringer, adding a lot more to your impression of the Wonder Woman mythos. These are, after all, DC-verse stories. Bardugo’s squad of Alia, Jason, Nym and Theo shine compared to Lu’s Dianne and Harvey (Dent), who are mere second fiddles for her Bruce Wayne. Batman: Nightwalker is still a fun one-time read, but not a book that I’ll be returning to.
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