Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey



In my case, Lee Child’s cover blurb is highly inaccurate.  Assuming that he includes himself in the group he describes, I’d guess Lee Child hasn’t read many superhero stories; he certainly should be familiar with a number of the other elements involved in Sakey‘s Brilliance.  The book is an excellent combination of superhero fiction, “spy” thriller, and semi-dystopian intrigue, and while I haven’t read many books that combine all of those elements at once, I’m certainly familiar with each of them individually.  That familiarity leaves me well positioned to appreciate the skill with which Sakey unwinds his plot.

The story is set in a world in which some people (1% of the population, more or less) are extremely capable at pattern recognition, generally focusing on a specific subset of their environment.  Our protagonist, for example, is able to read people’s immediate intent through their body language, making him fabulously good at telling where people are going to move within the next few seconds, and at telling whether or not someone believes what they are saying to be true.  This basis for superpowers is simultaneously remarkably constrained and very wide-ranging.  It doesn’t make people superhuman in immediately noticeable ways, and Sakey does an excellent job of keeping to his original concept without breaking the plausibility of the setting.

This is a fast and fun book, and an easy read.  The main character is a quintessential representation of The Man, and the story offers pulpy action goodness, with a thick helping of intrigue, implicit duplicity, and lies.  If you enjoy quick reads that deal with a moderately dystopian alternate present filled with superhumans who are indistinguishable from the rest of us, and all the problems that entails, then I suggest you pick up this book.  You may want to pick it up even if those keywords don’t set your Must Read alarms buzzing, but I’ll save any more description for after the break, where I keep all my spoilers.

Also, just to warn you, this book definitely deals with racism and the abuse of authority.  I think it does it decently, you may think differently.  I don’t think you’d mind it, Stephanie, but I also don’t know that you’d identify with the narrator at all.

So, yes, this description will have some *SPOILERS*.  I’ll do my best to keep them mild, and I’ll start with gentle ones and work my way up from there.

First off and mildest of all, the book makes considerable use of foreshadowing.  Unlike real life, the story of Brilliance is very tightly plotted and you’ll see things 0h-so-casually established coming up again and again.  The story failed to surprise me, but I was ok with that because it did such a good job of telling me what was coming without leaving me bored.  This is a tricky path to walk, as I’m quite aware, and I admire the way in which Sakey was able to do it.  Honestly, that’s part of why I liked the book so much.  If you have any knowledge of the relevant genres, I suspect you’ll have a similar experience.

Now, considerably more spoiler-y, allow me to add to my above point: the main character is a quintessential representation of The Man, and the story offers pulpy action goodness, with a thick helping of intrigue, implicit duplicity, and lies as seen from the perspective of the dupe.  You might have already guessed that based on the previous descriptions, but it’s an important note to make.  It’s part of why the narrator’s revelations about the abuses of the state are actually interesting to me.  I don’t know how interesting they would have been if I’d read a number of stories like this already, but they seemed well done (perhaps because they fit so well into the pattern of the monomyth, and I’m a sucker for Campbell).

So we get to watch a shortened trip down the long deep rabbit hole of paranoia, in a way that is remarkably similar to Three Days of the Condor but with less in the way of questionable sex and more in the way of a (super)empowered narrator.  As more-intelligent pulpy action novels go, that seems like a pretty good deal to me.

This is not a novel about long and deep soul-searching, and while it has some character development it doesn’t really seem like it’s all about that either.  In the end, I think this book is really about what someone will go through in order to protect their children, and give them a better future.  I liked it.  I hope you will too.


One response to “Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey

  1. Pingback: The Restoration Game, by Ken MacLeod | Fistful of Wits

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