Book Review: The Point by John Dixon

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of The Point by John Dixon, Probably the first in a new series? I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cover Description: “What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone—until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line.

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker—she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb—and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

What is the book about?

We follow Scarlett Winter, a character with a name you only see in fiction, as she discovers that she possesses a supernatural power. But learning to control this power and avoiding a stay in prison for the first time she becomes aware of her powers requires a sacrifice: enrolling at West Point military academy. Something she very much did not want to do.

Scarlett is a misfit and a slacker, coasting through school doing the bare minimum, she immediately clashes with the regimented life of West Point. Can she survive her powers, the other cadets, the teachers, and the inevitable larger conflict centered around the source of her post-human abilities? Pick up the book to find out.

What Did I Like About the Book?

From Hogwarts to Starship Troopers (the movie), Fantasy and Science Fiction loves a good academy/boot camp. This one stands out for being centered in actual West Point, and while the plot allows for many liberties, it does feel to capture a realistic West Point experience, intense jargon and screaming drill sergeants and all. Overall Dixon blended his fantasy elements into the book deftly and in ways that felt genuine and realistic for working with the real world.

The characters in this book were diverse and well crafted, if relying on high-school character tropes perhaps a bit too much. Only a handful of characters really got to shine in the book, so mostly the tropish characterization of Scarlett’s classmates didn’t feel to distracting. The Characters we got to spend time with all fleshed out very nicely, with distinct backstories and motivations.

I did enjoy the variety and depth to the different power sets the students had. Everything from remote viewing to pyrokinesis gets mentioned but Scarlett’s power is a fun one, the redistribution of energy. Any energy. Kinetic, heat, whatever. But for as much as that could make her stupidly powerful, Scarlett never seems to go too crazy town with it.

Who was my Favorite Character?

Scarlett was a fine protagonist, well developed with clear motivations towards the end of the book if not before. But the character I was most wanting to know more about was Dalia Amer. Scarlett is introduced to Dalia about midway through the book, after surprise the protagonist in a powered humans story turns out to be really powerful, as the only other student at West Point equally powerful. Dalia can view and manipulate your dreams while you’re asleep or make you live them out when you’re alive. She’s the “mean girl” of the academy with a frightening power and no real qualms about using it to achieve whatever the hell she wants. You initially think she might be the chief antagonist in the book but she’s never really given an opportunity to really be that. Dixon shows us the damage that makes her how she is, but at the end of the book she feels like the character with the least resolution and that made me want to know more about her.

What Did I Not Like?

I’m gonna cover two minor gripes real fast and then talk about one scene that really pissed me off. Minor gripes, pacing really drug in the middle, everything felt loaded towards the front or end of the book and the big bad guy was like a bond villain with magic powers and the ending of the book didn’t really set up a sequel.

Here’s the big problem and I’m just gonna say spoiler warning here, skip to the verdict if you want to miss this. Also trigger warning, because the problem I have is something that I was definitely sexual assault. So about midway in the book Scarlett starts hooking up with a guy named Seamus, who at the point can use telekinesis, and is, in fact, the most powerful telekinetic they have. Their relationship until chapter 35, for what little we see of it is fine. It gets points for not being too graphic and gets points for not falling into male author describes female problems (i.e., there isn’t a paragraph devoted to Scarlett’s looks or her breasts). But all this gets soured for me in 35 when Seamus starts using his telekinetic powers to forcefully violate Scarlett in the middle of a class on Homer’s the Odyssey.  This whole chapter basically reads like assault. Scarlett is panicked when she doesn’t know who is using their powers to touch her, and she’s embarrassed and in no way consenting to this. This goes on for several paragraphs and only gets worse. Once she identifies Seamus as the person assaulting her she clearly makes non-verbal requests that he stop. Even as other students turn to watch her being violated and saying nothing, Seamus just sits in his chair, smug in the power he has over her. Smirking. And then this doesn’t get addressed. Or dealt with. At all. Because the chapter ends with news that her brother died and the rest of the book is spent on sorting out the Big Bad for the story.

Maybe you can read this as romantic, but, if you can, I’m going to wonder if you’re a sociopath. This scene strips agency from the protagonist in several ways. She’s humiliated and basically subjugated in front of a classroom of her peers. She isn’t allowed to fight back which narratively doesn’t make any sense because both before and after she is able to absorb telekinetic energy and turn it back at the caster while feeling nothing. But worst of all, it’s never addressed. She never brings it up to her commanding officers or friends. She never confronts Seamus about it. She immediately goes from being furious at Seamus for the assault, to finding out her brother died, to having to fight the Big Bad. Not resolving this is made worse because Seamus remains her love interest in the book. And, in fact, he at minimum uses his powers to grope her again at the end of the book during a graduation ceremony.

Outside of this scene, Dixon talks about another sexual assault when he recounts one of the things that makes Dalia bitter, mean and dangerous. In one chapter we find Dalia exacting revenge on a boy who had sex with her, filmed it without consent, then uploaded it to the internet. Dalia’s revenge leads the boy to commit suicide and regardless of how you feel about torturing someone until they take their own life, this instance of assault was at least acknowledged as a violation and addressed as one.

What was extra shocking about this scene was that, like I mentioned before, this book has a diverse cast, Scarlett doesn’t feel like some fantasy or fetishized version of a female, and Dixon avoids a lot of male author describes women problems. This felt like it came out of nowhere, it felt detached from the mood of the rest of the book, and I’m shocked it made it past Dixon’s editors. I got my ARC about a week before the book came out so I doubt it was cut. It feels like this was intended to be a scene out of National Lampoon’s Animal House if those deviants had magic powers. But I keep going back to the words used. “Desperate,” “Panicked,” “Embarrassment,” “Cruel,” “Mocking Eyes,” “Stop,” and “no, no, no, no.” No consent and that means I can’t read this as anything but assault. Other than this scene I wouldn’t have a serious complaint about this book. Some minor stuff, but Dixon’s writing is grammatically accurate if sometimes stilted and a little awkward, but it has won awards in the past.

The Verdict!

3.0 out of 5 cups of tea for The Point by John Dixon. How much should you dock a book for one bad chapter? How much does a poorly handled, probably intended as some kind of romantic, turned assault scene effect a book? Turns out for me, a lot. I struggled really hard on how and where to rate this book. Ignoring that one chapter this was a fun fantasy adventure, that felt at home in real-world settings, with a diverse cast of characters and magical ability. The action is well paced and inventive and the powers the students have were used in fun and creative ways. Scarlett’s journey from troubled, listless teen to young adult with purpose and direction was solidly written. But that one chapter was so bad. It attacked one of the chief characteristics of our protagonist, her desire for freedom, and attacked it in the worst way. That one chapter colored the rest of the book in a way that ruined the love interest in the book.

3 of 5
Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 5 cups of tea for The Point by John Dixon. This was a solid book marred and scarred by one really terrible chapter that might’ve worked in the 70’s but in the MeToo era of fiction I’m astonished the editors at Del Rey let it out the door.
Pros Cons
+ I liked the setting, it made use of the fantasy/scifi love of academies and boot camps in a fun way. – The Sexual Assault scene was BAD. Like full stop bad. It detracted, for me, from the close of the book and felt handled poorly and completely unnecessary.
+ A diverse cast of characters that had compelling back stories and characterizations. – Pacing struggled in the middle. The beginning and end of the book were loaded with action, the middle drug.
+ A fun blend of magical powers and abilities used in fun ways that never seemed too ridiculous, except when ridiculous drove the plot. – The Big Bad was thin, the book resolved in a way that didn’t clearly set up sequels, and one of the main characters had a real bad end.

 

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