I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Xavier’s Institute book First Team by Robbie MacNiven, published by Aconyte Books, so here is the honest review I promised in exchange for the book.

So here is an important disclaimer which is always important to put out there first. I have a casual work contact with Asmodee to demonstrate board games for them in stores and at conventions. Asmodee being the parent company of Aconyte the publisher.

Secondly I am a friend of Robbie on Facebook, and whilst we aren’t best buds, we do interact with each other on occasion and I consider him a class person.

I am going to try my best to not let these things cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.

What is Marvel

Look at this point I would bore you with a bit of background to the game/universe, but lets not, you all know the Marvel Universe, if you don’t have you been living under a rock!

The Xavier’s Institute novel series is focued on the heroes that attend this school and their adventures and the two books in the series thus far (disclaimer I never actually read the first one yet) have focuses on what would very much be considered b-list heroes, which is good because it allows the authors to do a lot more with the characters than they would be able to do with more established heroes.

The Story

This is not an origin story, but you aren’t gonna need to know the background, you do get a decent explanation of the characters. Speaking of which the main character is Victor Borkowski, aka Anole, a lizard type mutant who had a really good upbringing compared to other mutants, and this story sees his dad kidnaped by anti-mutant extremists known as the Purifiers.

Pretty much this whole book is about the b-list X-Men with a little bit of Cyclops and a cameo by Kitty Pryde (The best of all X-Men and I will die on that hill), with Greymalkin, Cipher and Rockside forming the titular First Team. All of these are fan favourites but haven’t really had the exposure to the wider public before.

The story is one about family, a theme familar to those who are X-Men fans, family that is biological, adopted, genetic and forged of friendship. Mutants have often been shown to be more likely to suffer abandonment, being made orphaned or just plain abused, and this really delves into that in the unusualness of Anole having had a normal loving upbringing in an acepting community, despite being both a mutant and gay.

The family bonds we have are so often more than simple blood, they are forged in love and friendship, and this book really gets to the core of that, family is more than blood, and looks at what we would give up when our families are under threat.


This book is a real page turner and is to me seemingly a story in four parts almost, don’t know if that’s important but it felt like the book had four acts almost in which the feeling of the book changed quite a bit, which worked for me.

The featured X-Men are well rounded, you get a good feeling for who they are and what their motivations are, except perhaps Cipher, but I think that is intentional as she is a rather caged and guarded character.

Anole is a fan favourite and for good reason, we know that he was originally intended to commit suicide in the comics whilst struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, but just like the comics quickly realised that this would be a crass and awful thing to do, Anole here is at peace with his secuality and very happy with that part of himself, which was very warming to read.

I also liked that fact that although there were two gay blokes in this story, there was no automatic coupling, they were friends and often in comics and books, where there are two gay characters, they are often forced into a relationship by the writer, but here is a rare example of two gay men, who just enjoy each others company in a non-romantic way, and that to me makes their bond all that much stronger.

The theme of family, is infused into this book so naturally and so well, that it really makes you realise exactly how talented a writer Robbie is, it would be so easy to shove it in your face point to it and make it so obvious that its painful. But instead he has written a book that does this in a subtle way that you don’t realise how much focus the book places on the concept until you get to the epilogue, in that respect its a very well crafted book.

But thats not to say its a perfect book, and my biggest critisism is the villans, although we get some chapters from thier point of view, they feel very one dimensional, they are there, there is no background, they just exist as an obsticle with no real motivation other than hate and greed.

The big bad of the book, is sort of implied to be a mutant, but this is then forgotten about and we don’t actually have an explantaion about him. I know who he is and what his background is, but its not very well explained or expanded upon, which is a shame as the concept of him is, interesting in the comics.

To be frank, he could have been any generic bad guy and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the story which is what annoyed me about this, I feel in that respect Robbie did the character a disservice.

Same with the Purifiers, an existing organisation in the 616 continuity that honestly could have been any generic anti-mutant religious group.

All I am saying is that I think that original creations would have been better, because it really felt like the baddies were sort of not really well served in the story, and that’s not a bad thing, because the focus is and should have been the protagonists.

So in conclusion I am giving this a solid 4 out of 5

The eBook is out now and the paperback hits the shelves on 27th May.