Costume Not Included is the second book in the continuing adventures of Chesney, also known as the superhero The Actionary. After causing Hell to go on strike, gaining a demonic companion who has pretty much enabled and now aids his crime-fighting and a possible girlfriend, what else is there for Chesney to do, right?
But of course things do get more and more complicated as the revelations of the first book continue to develop. The character are full agents in this story after all, and thus naturally they want to get a better grip on their own fates and better understand just what the heck is going on. And so we have even more religious figures come into play as Hell tries to take the game to the next level.
Synopsis: Costume Not Included is the second book in Matthew Hughes's To Hell and Back trilogy of novels. It was published by Angry Robot Books in April 2012.
Our hero Chesney seems to have everything he could want. He continues to work with the demon Xaphan to fight crimes through the use of demonic magic. Melba, the woman he once saved a few times is now his actual girlfriend. And the big evil plot of the first book was pretty much resolved then, and so things are looking a lot better for him. But now the Reverend Hardacre believes that it's his role to write the new Book of Chesney, a new gospel that claims to foretell what will come next. He has written the book with the guidance of a Throne from Heaven, so it has to be correct, right?
But Chesney is uncertain if he wants to fulfill Hardacre's prophetic gospel instead of just living his life as a superhero. Melba has her own views on things and might be able to lend some support, but at the end of the day it's still Chesney's decision. And of course there are the greater implications of Hardacre's theory from the first book. If all of Creation is really a book that God is writing that includes multiple drafts and variations on the same thing, then there are some disturbing implications regarding those drafts. And Chesney eventually sets out to figure out what happens then.
Now to get things out of the way, these books probably started out as roundabout superhero stories but at they're core they're probably more religious or at least about a guy with some mental challenges taking on some big problems. Chesney was clearly established in this book as being a highly functional autistic with a passion for numbers, hence his whole "pools of light" view of the world. But given his preference to deal with things in a black or white fashion, the increasing moral complexity of things certainly makes things difficult for him.
I appreciate the greater role that Lucifer/Satan had to play in this story. Sure, in the first book he got dragged into things since Hell went on strike. This time around he had more to do than merely react to something that a human had inadvertently caused. Instead we had a pretty complex plan that didn't necessarily show he was out to do even more evil. Instead his greater goal was to just regain control of things despite the whole "Creation is a book" theory.
I wasn't quite expecting Reverend Hardacre to play such a big role in this book - I was under the impression that his arc was mostly done by the end of the first book. Instead he had quite a significant role this time around that didn't necessarily feel irrational or too out of place. Everything is all part of a bigger plan after all and how it all comes together is what really defines this narrative.
But I am seeing that more and more, Chesney has fewer chances to be a superhero since (1) the story has escalated to a larger Theological scale and (2) supposedly the Actionary's first few forays into stopping crime immediately resulted in a drop in crime rates for some reason. Given how his first exploits in the first book often took place faster than the human eye could perceive, I always found this twist in things a little weird.
Costume Not Included nicely built on the framework established in the first book with quite the expanded story. It may not be all about being a superhero, but there's still plenty of subject matter that the book nicely explores. Thus the book gets 3.5 pools of light for Chesney out of a possible 5.