I loved that first season of NBC’s Heroes. There was so much promise, so much potential. Of course that didn’t last long as the show became muddled in its own mythology and then got tripped up by the writer’s strike. But that first season? That is some excellent television. Thankfully Marcus Sakey takes all the promise and wonder from that first season of Heroes and pours into his novel Brilliance. In the world of Brilliance’s Agent Nick Cooper a tiny, but not insignificant, percentage of the human population is born with special gifts. While some gifts are mundane and relatively harmless others, like Cooper’s own ability to “read” people through minute cues in body language, are dangerous. Cooper works for DAR, the Department of Analysis and Response, an agency founded after a “brilliant” leader assassinated an important politician and committed mass murder. His job is to track down the dangerous “brilliants” for Uncle Sam and either capture them or put them down.
As a fan of superheroes, particularly have grown up with a steady diet of Marvel’s X-Men, Brilliance seems like a novel targeted directly at my own tastes. Cooper is very much a company man at the start of the novel though I think he is not unaware of the dangers represented by the government’s current oversight of “dangerous brilliants.” His own uncertainty is brought to the fore when his own daughter begins to exhibit abilities that might lead to her being sent to one of the government’s special “schools” for dangerous brilliants. Cooper cuts a deal with his boss going undercover to track down and take out the leader of those brilliants who seek to remain free. Brilliance is an enjoyable thrill ride that covers some familiar territory. The United States glimpsed in the novel is one that if familiar but that has seen some startling changes thanks to the advances in science and technology that brilliants have brought about.
Over the course of Brilliance Cooper unfurls a nefarious web of conspiracy and betrayal that sets his feet on the path towards playing an important role in changing the world. Sakey continues the story in A Better World which takes place almost immediately after the events in Brilliance. In many ways Brilliance feels like an extended prologue, a mere warm up for A Better World. The second novel really amps up the action and delves a bit further into the social and ethical questions raised by the presence of brilliants in the world. Like in Brilliance the book remains firmly from the perspective of Nick Cooper. Cooper, particularly in the second novel, really lives up to the old saying that “behind every cynic is a disappointed idealist.” Glimpses of Cooper’s idealism bleed through every now and then but they are strongly tempered by his experiences in the world, and by his own special abilities to see through deception. It gives Cooper and nice sense duality and constantly leaves you wonder just which side of personality will win out in any given situation.
Brilliance and A Better World are well worth the read for fans of thrillers who don’t mind a bit of a jump into the science fictional. The abilities of the brilliants in the series is, typically speaking, practical rather than flashy. The grounded nature of the abilities lends a sense of realism to the series that absolutely makes it a more engaging read. This a great little series and I cannot wait to see what happens next.