Book review: ‘Brilliance’ by Marcus Sakey

Title: Brilliance
Author: Marcus Sakey
My rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Release date: July 16, 2013 (Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint) on Amazon

Athriller that’s long been on my reading list and that finally made its way onto my Kindle, “Brilliance” is a smart, fast-paced page-turner that opens the three-part Brilliance series by indie author Marcus Sakey.

brilliance jacketThe novel has the feeling and pace of a traditional suspense novel, complete with a government agent at the center — but it adds one intriguing sci-fi conceit. This bleak-but-not-quite-dystopian contemporary world is populated not just by the 99 percent of us who are regular old humans but also by the 1 percent (let the parallels begin!) of the population born as Brilliants, or abnorms, who develop extraordinary but credible skills and abilities. It’s a society much like our own, wrenched by terrorism and fear of “the other” — in this case, fear of the small subset of differently abled people contributing to major advances in technology, math, medicine, science and the arts.

Too many novels in the thriller genre offer only glancing hints at a character’s motivation and decision-making, but Sakey imbues his main character with pages of richly textured internal monologue that gives us a sense of what makes him tick. The protagonist, Nick Cooper, is an abnorm himself who can read people’s intentions just from a single micro-expression. He works as a field agent for a Homeland Security-like agency, and we uncover one revelation after another as agent Cooper (“Twin Peaks,” anyone?) moves through a morally gray landscape in the hunt for the head of an abnorm faction blamed for a massive terrorist attack in New York.

Cooper also wrestles with inner conflict along the way, first with the fact that his young daughter is an abnorm who will soon be taken into protective custody by his own agency and assigned to a special school for Brilliants, as well as his romantic dalliance with Shannon, a sexy abnorm allied with the suspected terrorist leader. Despite temptations along the way, the morally stalwart agent becomes increasingly distressed as he uncovers evidence about a conspiracy at the highest levels of the government. As he heads to Montana in an undercover operation to confront the head of the Brilliants, he finds himself faced with a slew of moral decisions even as he evades capture by his own agency and the plot takes some unexpected twists.

Author Marcus Sakey instills his thriller with deft writing and rich characterization conveyed with simple strokes. I just picked up books 2 and 3 of the trilogy and look forward to similar high levels of craftsmanship.

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JD Lasica
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