[REVIEW] Starlion: Thieves of the Red Night, by Leon Langford

A Black woman's hand holds up the colorful anime-style cover of Starlion: Thieves Of The Red Night in front of a office window overlooking the Boston Seaport district.

(Buy it here from Bookshop.)

What do you get when you cross Sky High, The Avengers and Yu-Gi-Oh? Toss in a little Harry Potter and Percy Jackson too and apparently, you get this fun middle-grade superhero fantasy novel by indie author Leon Langford.

It’s about Jordan Harris, a supernaturally gifted Black boy in an alternate Houston where the gods of mythology are real and have passed their gifts down to numerous heirs. The best and brightest go to superhero school. The less supported become vigilantes, running the risk of jail and permanent disgrace. It’s to avoid this disgrace that Jordan agrees to stop his solo crime-fighting activities and go undercover in a super-school to find a pair of villains trying to replicate the greatest tragedy in recent history. With the help of good friends, new teachers, and his stern, motherly older sister, Jordan has no choice but to increase his power levels and save the day.

I’m leaving loads of details out of this plot synopsis, but with good reason. This book is complicated — but in the best kind of way. The lore is deep and detailed, with anime-style illustrations to match. Preteen nerd me would have lived for a universe like this to lose myself in, and I think current young readers will have the same response. It’s a fun read with the kind of complexity trading cards and movie tie-ins are made of(*AHEM*), and I hope the book blows up into a series. The illustrations reflect this merch-readiness as well–I’ve included a few of them in this review, with the kind permission of the author.

There are also a lot of little Black cultural touches authentic to the real world included in the book that I appreciated–the strained affection between Jordan and his absentee superhero uncle, in particular, touched me. Some of the supporting cast are Latino and Southeast Asian as well. There are nods to heritage throughout this book that don’t distract from the action and adventure–rather, they add to it. The author explained his vision for this in an email exchange, and I have to say, I’m all here for it.

My personal mission with this book, was for audiences, young and old, to see themselves in a more powerful light. I owe so much of my childhood to Marvel, DC, and Shonen Jump properties, and I wanted to craft a universal experience for my audience that sent them on the same super-powered adventure. Starlion is driven by characters that were always marginalized or featured in a supporting role, and I wanted to flip the usual narrative and show that no matter, your race, age, or background, anyone can be a hero. 

I love that there are so many fun, joyous books out featuring Black and Brown boys now, and I recommend this for your little comics lovers. It goes on my fun Black fantasy kids shelf along with Raybearer Tarisai and TJ Young.

Deepest thanks to Leon Langford (@starlionbook) for the digital ARC of the book and his epic patience with me and the havoc my international move wreaked on the timing of this fair and impartial review!

(Beautiful people! I’m loving how much fun Black heroes are having in fantasy books for all ages these days and hope you are, too. If you want to find more books like this, please check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop, but be aware that all purchases made if you click through to that site result in a commission being paid. Peace, and go read something good!)

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