As an unabashed comic, fantasy, superhero geek, I've always enjoyed Julie Kenner's Protector series. Unfortunately, this latest installment falls flat and is not up to her usual standards.
Our Protector this time is Jason Murphy. His secret power is that he can communicate with fish, breathe underwater and, when necessary, transform himself into a dolphin. Six years ago, he found out his father was none other than the master villain Outcast, Hieronymous. As fate would have it, that was also the day his girlfriend Lane Kent told him she was pregnant. Afraid that his evil father might try one of his tricks, Jason takes off to defeat him but ends up spending the years in a fish bowl under Hieronymous' watchful eye.
Jason eventually escapes and longs to reunite with Lane and his son. To Lane, who doesn't know about his secret identity, Jason's disappearance was abandonment, pure and simple. She has raised their son Davy alone, along with a little help from her brother and his wife Zoe, the heroine from Kenner's previous book Aphrodite's Kiss. She has no desire to play happy family with the man who left her alone all those years ago.
But of course she really does. Otherwise what's the point of the book?
Anyway, Jason and Lane are thrown back together again when Hieronymous kidnaps Davy, planning to use the boy's special power to enhance his own and (all together now) take over the world! The plot flounders on forward with a lot of little misunderstandings, false accusations and some of the most inept superheroes on record. Lane of course still loves Jason but can't trust him, can't trust that he'll put his family first. It's a pretty weak conflict.
In fact, the entire relationship story is rather weak. So much time is spent with Jason, developing him and how he feels that Lane is almost an afterthought. In fact, the reader spends more time with Zoe than the heroine of the current book. This is made even worse by the fact that Zoe is so completely irritating in this book. She's pregnant and thus her powers are impaired. It's more like she got pregnant and every brain cell she had was sucked out of her. Sad because in her own book, Zoe was a great heroine. The reader gets frustrated that the story spends so much time with a twit at the expense of getting to know the true heroine.
So without solid romance, the book relies on its Protector subplot to hold the reader's interest. Normally this would be a lot of fun, but Kenner has chosen a band of boring superheroes for this story. There is Zoe, as mentioned earlier and then the newbie Boreas (who Jason aptly nicknames officer Boring). The two of them jump to conclusions about Jason and waste too much time being ridiculous, although Boreas does pull off one decent trick near the end. The one shining spot comes, from all places, the bad guys, in the form of Mordachai. Mordy is Hieronymous' other son, and doesn't know that Jason is his half-brother. Mordy longs for approval from his father who constantly belittles him and battles his own conscience over whether he should be helping him. This is not Mordy's first appearance in this series and he is consistently an engaging and well-developed character. He desperately needs his own book. Also very amusing is Davy, who is a mini-McGyver.
Aphrodite's Secret is a quick read, despite its flaws. Kenner fans should pick this up, if only to keep track of Mordy. Readers who are new to the Protector world would do better to pick up one of the earlier books.