Brilliance by Marcus Sakey (Thomas & Mercer, 2013)-Nick Cooper is an agent for a group called Equitable Services, and they are tasked with eliminating terrorists. It’s a clandestine group, but other than that, sounds pretty straightforward, right? Not so much. In fact, the terrorists that Nick and his group hunts are very special. They’re called abnorms, or “brilliants”, and they make up a very small part of the population, but they can wield amazing power. It’s only been about 30 years since the discovery of the first abnorms; people with very special abilities. These abilities aren’t supernatural, but they are quite amazing and they’re measured in tiers. Tier 1 abnorms are the sharpest of the sharp, and so on…you get the idea. Nick Cooper happens to actually one, and his ability includes being able to read what people will do next, in the smallest twitch of a muscle or most subtle of glances. Even though he hunts others like him, he truly believes that he’s only hunting the most dangerous of abnorms, those that aren’t above killing innocent people, and he’s dedicated to this task. His ultimate quarry, however, is an activist that calls himself John Smith. He was a respected voice among the abnorms until he massacred over 70 innocents in a restaurant, and now he’s the “gas men’s” ultimate target. After Cooper is unable to stop a bombing of the new Stock Exchange, one that kills over 1,000 people, he seems it as a unique opportunity to go after John Smith, but this mission will test Cooper like he’s never been tested before, and alter everything he’s ever believed in.
Brilliance takes place in present day, but it’s an alternate version of America, one in which 9/11 never happened, we never went to war with the Middle East, and one in which our space program is still going strong. These aren’t the only differences, but that gives you a good idea of the environment, all ostensibly because of the brilliants and what they’ve given to us in the way of technological advances. The 2013 of this book is a great deal more advanced than our 2013 was, to say the least. However, there’s tension growing between abnorms and regular people. Some normal people are afraid that if abnorms are allowed free reign, that they will soon greatly surpass them to the point that normals will become slaves. That’s the extreme. There are those that are wary of abnorms, but not to that extent. Then there are, of course, the abnorms, who want just to be treated equally, and there are those that won’t hesitate to use their heightened abilities for evil. You know, pretty much the normal human gamut, it’s just that some people have a much more distinct advantage over others. Domestic terrorism has become a common occurance, and the country is on edge. This is the environment in which Cooper and the Equitable Services must work. However, when he goes on the hunt for John Smith, he starts to realize that things may not be quite what he thought, and when his family is threatened, including his very special young daughter, he must decide what side he’s on, and that decision is hard then you might think.
Brilliance is a very brainy thriller, and it moves at breakneck speed. If you enjoy books about shadowy government organizations, full of spycraft, chases, and the like, then you’ll love it. But it’s more than that. It’s a book of ideas, and the struggle between the norms and abnorms will resonate, and parallels the struggle against racism and extremism (of any sort) in this country. So, it’s also very timely. In Brilliance, the government has decided that microchipping the brilliants is actually a good way to go, to keep track of them. Yep, throwing a microchip in next to their carotid so they can’t easily remove it. In fact, the author likens this to Jews in Nazi Germany having to wear the Star of David. Pretty scary, huh?
Brilliance has been nominated for a ton of awards, including the Edgar, and that’s for good reason. It’s a cracking good read, and Cooper is a hero to root for. His journey is more emotional and harrowing then you might think, considering the lightning-fast pace, and against the background of brewing revolution, it makes for a riveting read. This one is unputdownable, and not to be missed.