A Better World: The Brilliance Saga, Book Two
Marcus Sakey surprised a few people --- actually, a whole army of readers --- in 2013 when he published BRILLIANCE, a science-fiction thriller that was promised to be part of a series. He previously had earned his author bones by publishing a number of stand-alone works that together could be loosely classified under the crime fiction umbrella but were very different from each other. Sakey adroitly turned from one genre to another, seemingly without effort, but utilizing the same tools in the skill set that made his previous efforts so memorable: those would be his perfect storytelling pacing and his uncanny ability to keep the reader guessing as to what will happen next.
A BETTER WORLD, the second installment in the Brilliance series, continues with the themes that its predecessor initiated while progressing the story line in frightening and unexpected ways. Sakey’s brilliant storytelling abilities are on full display here; within the first 16 pages, not only does he grab readers by the throat and drag them into the story, he also provides a quick yet vital summary of what has gone before.
"You will not be able to get A BETTER WORLD out of your head once you start or finish it, and conjecture as to what will happen next undoubtedly will continue to ride high until the next installment of the series."
The premise of Sakey’s world --- very much like our own --- is that a small but significant minority known as “brilliants” within the population possess skill sets of different types and degrees. After the existence of the brilliants is detected in the early 1980s, a screening examination is administered by fiat at eight years of age when a child is thought or suspected to be a brilliant. Those children who are found to be brilliants are shunted off to “academies” --- glorified institutions --- for the stated purpose of more fully developing their talents. The logic behind this is that the people so identified have the potential to be dangerous far in excess of their numbers. Every action has a reaction, of course, with the result being that a small group of extreme brilliants decide that 1) they should be running things, and 2) terrorist actions are the way to demonstrate their potential power.
A brilliant named Nick Cooper, who possesses the uncanny ability to read a person’s mannerisms and body language and anticipate their actions, was introduced in BRILLIANCE as the top operator in a clandestine government agency tasked with taking violent brilliants off the board. As A BETTER WORLD begins, Cooper finds himself in a new position as an adviser to the President of the United States. A new group of radical brilliants known as the Children of Darwin have a plan for a better world, as they say, and to implement it, they must bring the United States government to its knees. In order to do so, they first interrupt the food supply to three major cities, and then take those metropolitan areas off the power grid.
The narrative shifts its point of view frequently --- among Cooper, a family in Cleveland (one of the affected cities), and the nominal head of the brilliants, among others. This ratchets the already stratospheric level of suspense ever upward, as Cooper finds that his advice to the President as to how to proceed is frequently overruled or outright ignored by the other advisers who have the President’s ear. Things get worse, of course, and then…they get even worse. By the end of the book, it is anything but that.
A BETTER WORLD ends on a cliffhanging, though not to say unsatisfying or downbeat, note. There is more, much more to come, but the sequel is an integral part of the journey you will not want to miss. A major reason for this is that Sakey is a masterful scribe, no matter in what genre he chooses to write. His story moves quickly, without sacrificing depth or characterization, and one is never quite sure which side to take, a feeling not unlike that experienced by fans of a certain other popular series dealing with a contest of chairs, if you will.
You will not be able to get A BETTER WORLD out of your head once you start or finish it, and conjecture as to what will happen next undoubtedly will continue to ride high until the next installment of the series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 20, 2014