Book Review: Robert Crane’s The Girl in the Box (Box Set)

Box Set: Books 1-3 (The Girl in the Box, #1-3)My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warning: May Contain Spoilers

Sienna Nealon has spent most of her childhood and her teen years a prisoner in her own home. The only person in her life is her mother. A mother who doesn’t show her affection, who rarely talks to her except to teach her something, trains her every day in martial arts and locks her in a metal box in the cellar if Sienna breaks any of the rules; always be fully dressed, never look outside and never leave the house. Then one day, Sienna wakes ups to find two armed men in her house.
This is where the first book starts. Sienna’s mother has been gone for a week, with no phone call or message to explain her absence. Sienna realises that she is going to have to break all of her mother’s rules. Escaping the house, Sienna finds herself entering a world that anyone of us would find strange. A world in which metahumans exist, living in the shadows, wielding powers both terrifying and amazing. Sienna quickly learns that there she is being hunted by more than just those two men. Three powerful factions are interested in Sienna, because of who she is and . . . because of what she is.
Over the course of the first two books in the series, Alone and Untouched, Sienna discovers that she has superhuman strength and agility, a healing factor akin to Wolverine’s, and the power to suck the life-force out of her victims (like Rogue). Over the course of the box set, the reader witnesses Sienna’s growth from being an abused, naïve and fragile girl, into a sassy, powerful metahuman. It’s hard not to sympathise with her. The author puts her through physical and emotional hell, having her bashed and torn by monsters like Wolfe, Sabretooth’s bigger and badder twin and Full Metal Jackass, the Juggernauts less psychotic cousin. It’s almost as if Sienna likes getting beat-up, as half-way through the first book she develops a seriously suicidal conscience that makes her decide to put herself in harm’s way. In the second book, Crane gives her a ride along buddy in her head, the monster formerly known as Wolfe, like her personal homicidal inner-voice, possibly the most interesting thing to happen in the series. Strangely, the author decides to suppress this awesome concept through drugs and as a result, Wolfe is noticeably absent from Sienna’s head in the third book. Sienna herself has lost some of her softer edges and is well on the way to being a bad-ass herself, but she begins to make questionable decisions. Like Rogue, Sienna is unable to touch anyone with her bare skin without draining their life energy, so having a boyfriend is difficult work. However, it doesn’t explain why she jumps on the first guy she can touch without killing.
You may have picked up that I’ve made a number of references to characters appearing in X-Men. That’s because there seems a strong Marvel influence running through the character roster in this series. As well as the characters named above, there is chap that is reminiscent of Blob and another like the Human Torch. What is different is how Crane has classed the different mutant/meta abilities using references to the Greek pantheon, e.g. a healer is referred to a Persephone type, a meta with command over water is a Poseidon type, etc; though Crane stops well short of offering up a full classification of the meta abilities on offer. The other overarching conflict in Sienna’s world is the different factions. The first we are introduced to is the Directorate, a mixture of humans and metas that operate as pseudo-governmental agency that try to recruit metas and lock up or put down the one’s they believe are dangerous. The opposition is Omega, a group of metas who are also recruiting metas, the more powerful the better. There is a third group that we don’t hear much about at all until the third novel, who take a less extreme approach to swelling their ranks. I suppose the underlying narrative is “there’s a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?”
The writing is only a little annoying at times, but forgivably so. The author does a good job of piquing the interest from the very first page and a fast paced plot with regular action ensures that you keep coming back to the story. The first two books follow a similar formula, introducing a villain early on in the book and then having Sienna clash with him/her a number of times before finally defeating them. Clearly, this isn’t War and Peace, but that said that simple plot works really well as there’s plenty to go on with Sienna’s internal struggles. Crane changes things up in the third novel, though there are still a number of powerful enemies after Sienna, her internal struggle is downgraded to simple relationship stuff (if not being able to touch your partner is simple). Crane also finally uncovers some of the grand narrative, which kind of feels a little late in the day. Some stronger foreshadowing in the first two books would have helped set up some of the reveals that occur in the third novel. Inevitably, there are going to be more books in the series (in fact there is one out already), and the question is whether you feel invested enough to reach into your digital wallet to keep reading on.
As individual books, they are short and for most part punchy, but only as a collection (to me) do they feel worthwhile to put an effort in. My readers know that I’m a fan of the superhero/metahuman novels that have graced the digital shelves of Kindle, Nook and Kobo. This isn’t quite as good as Jade Kerrion’s fantastic Double Helix series, nor as edgy as Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, but it is still a fairly sturdy entry and will no doubt gather a fan base over the coming years.

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