Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Review: "A Better World" by Marcus Sakey

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

When you read a series of books, you always hope that the next book will be as strong if not stronger than the one that preceded it. Marcus Sakey's dazzling, creative Brilliance was one of the best books I read last year, so while I was tremendously excited to read A Better World, the second book in Sakey's Brilliance Saga, I was also a little hesitant. Could it live up to my (perhaps unrealistic) expectations? Would it remain true the story Sakey so deftly created?

Having torn through the book as quickly as life allowed me to, I can unequivocally say yes to both questions.

To refresh your memory (or set the scene for those of you yet to read the first book), in 1986, scientific study revealed that one percent of all children were being born "brilliant," possessed of savant abilities. These gifts manifested themselves in different ways; most were impressive but non-threatening, like the ability to multiply large numbers or perfectly play a song heard only once. Others were world-shifting.

As word of the brilliants began to spread, the world became uneasy. How could "regular" people compete with those that have superhuman abilities? What if the brilliants chose to use their abilities for evil rather than good? When a nationwide tragedy put blame on the brilliants, many in the world turned against them. Children who tested as "first-tier brilliants" were taken from their homes and families and segregated in schools, where they were emotionally abused and taught to trust no one. And many brilliants left their homes for a settlement in Wyoming, the New Canaan Holdfast, which was founded by one of the wealthiest brilliants of all.

Voices within the U.S. government have called for all brilliants to be implanted with trackable microchips. This prejudice has given rise to a splinter terrorist cell called the Children of Darwin, who cause acts of violence which cripple three cities. Nick Cooper, a former detective, now an adviser to the President of the United States (and a brilliant himself), is trying to help the country avoid what could prove to be an even bloodier civil war—a war of "normals" versus brilliants—than the original one was. All Cooper wants is to create a better world for his children. But as some within the president's administration scheme behind the scenes to move the country even closer to the brink of war, Cooper once again finds himself, his family, and his country in far more danger than he could have imagined. Can one man really save the world?

I am so blown away by the depth of the plot that Marcus Sakey has created in this saga. So much thought, so much detail has gone into every character, every plot twist, and it really shows in the quality of the storytelling and even the smallest things, as the book is once again interspersed with fake advertisements and other pieces of media supposedly broadcast and disseminated during the time the book is taking place. These are complex, flawed, layered characters that absolutely fascinated me, and Sakey ratchets up the tension little by little through the book until it reaches a crescendo. There's some terrific action and introspection, and if I had had the opportunity, I would have read the book in one sitting. I just devoured it.

If I have any criticism of A Better World, it's that I'm not a fan of those books and movies that use crooked, dangerous people within a government acting on their own contrary to the leaders' wishes as a plot device. I'm not naive enough to think that this doesn't happen in real life, it's just a little frustrating to read about. And I also wish we had seen more of Shannon (a major character in the first book). But these things don't detract from what makes this book so freaking good.

You could pick up A Better World without reading Brilliance first, because it gives you enough background to totally understand what came before, but I'd suggest reading the first book first, so you can be dazzled, too. I know it will be some time before the third book in the saga comes out, and I will be waiting with great anticipation (and, again, trepidation) for its release. In the meantime, I'll revel in the first two.

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