Audiobook Review: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

7 08 2013

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 35 Min.

Genre:Thriller with Science Fiction Elements

Quick Thoughts: Brilliance is a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. It’s a a straight thriller with enough science fiction elements that I want to force all my Speculative Fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book.

Grade: A+

Being that I grew up on a steady dose of shows like The SuperFriends, The Greatest American Hero and a plethora of superhero movies, I have always had a soft spot for tales about humans with super powers. To me, the gaining of superpowers is one of the greatest fantasy staples today. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if one day you woke up and you could shoot fire out of your eyes, or produce a temporal bubble allowing you to shift through time out your ass. The great thing about Superpower tales is they didn’t have to make sense, that the color of the son could allow you to violate all sorts of physical laws so you can fly, see through walls and wipe a women’s memory out with a kiss. To me this embodies the awesomeness of fantasy. Tales of super humans also create a wonderful tool to look at an alternate history, or tackle current issues. Myke Coles Shadow Ops and Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series both do these things wonderfully, examining the social, historical, military and political changes that would happen if suddenly some humans become more than human. Yet, these stories have always been fantasies for me, because, well, the stories aren’t really plausible. They require some sort of magical force to be the catalyst for these powers. Even something like The X-Men which cites the cause to be genetic mutations have powers so beyond reality that it’s hard to translate them into any true physical reality. Yet, then I read Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance, and well, simply stated, the concept blew my mind. In many ways Sakey applies Clarke’s Law to superpowers. What if there were humans so advanced that their abilities were practically indistinguishable from superpowers. What if their natural abilities to recognize patterns, to read body language, to pick up on empathic tells or to write code, perform mathematical equations or things like that where so advanced that they revolutionized the world. These abilities are not unnatural, just supernatural in the truest definition of the word. We have had savants in our culture who have pushed us towards great leaps in our development, yet what if something happens to increase the percentage of these brilliant world changing people, who in every other way are normal. This is the world that Marcus Sakey creates, and it’s is a really doozy.

Since 1980, a marked increase in humans with savant like abilities began. Now, nearly one in every hundred people born are Brilliants. Nick Cooper is the top agent with a Federal Agency given extreme powers to hunt down Brilliants who actively disrupt the functioning of the Government. Cooper himself is a brilliant, with the ability to read people’s body language with an almost psychic like prescience. Now Cooper is on the hunt for John Smith, a mastermind Brilliant terrorist responsible for mass atrocities. Brilliance is perhaps the ultimate genre bending novel. It is a thriller that Speculative Fiction readers will love, and accessible science fiction for thriller fans. In many ways, it is the collision of everything I love in books, bringing together a true thrilling ride full of car chases, shadowy government agencies and cinema quality fight scenes, with world building that would be the envy of any speculative fiction author. The world that Sakey creates is astounding. He doesn’t just go and say, “Hey, here’s a book with superheroes in our world” but pushes the technological, social and political extrapolations to logical and fascinating places. I loved how Sakey flipped the current political war on terror on its head, showing a world very different from the one we currently inhabit, but with many of the same issues. Sakey doesn’t shy away from the dirty side of the equations, showing how the government’s treatment of the Brilliants, particularly in the schools they create for the most dangerous Brilliants discovered through mandatory testing, yet also doesn’t shirk off the potential for havoc the Brilliants can have on society. Sakey uses his world to ask lots of questions, but never force feeds the reader the answers.  Sakey gives his characterizations just as much loving detail as his world. Nick Cooper is a wonderfully complex character, someone who takes his patriotism and loyalty seriously. Though he is using extreme means to fight the potential for chaos that some Brilliants could cause, he believes he is doing it for the right reasons. Yet when things become not as cut and dry and he believed, and when his loyalty puts him in conflict with his ability to protect his family Cooper truly suffers a sort of psychic dissonance. I like how Sakey doesn’t every step away from the core of Cooper’s character, even when his whole world is sent reeling. Yet, the true beauty of Brilliance is the way Sakey brings together his world, and characters and creates some extremely stunning action scenes. There is a reason Brilliance is labeled a thriller, the action drives the pace, leaving the reader struggling to find the next opportunity to safely take a breath.  Not since Trevor Shane’s Children of Paranoia have I found a thriller that I wanted to force all my science fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book. It was a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. Brilliance is not just my favorite thriller of the year, but it’s destined to find a place near the top of my year end Favorites.

I have listened to a lot of Luke Daniel’s narrations. He takes on quite a few series I follow, of many different genres. I am quite comfortable with his narrations, to the point where he rarely surprises me. Yet, he did with Brilliance. It’s not just his precise pacing, or impeccable characterizations. This is something I come to expect with any of Daniel’s performances. Sometimes, there is just some intangible extra in a narrator’s performance that comes when they know they are narrating something special, and that is evident in Daniel’s reading of this novel. I tend not to be a very visual in my listening. I have a general concept of character physical types and a rough layout of the action, yet, typically that is all I need. Yet, Brilliance was like a movie in my head. I didn’t just hear the characters, but saw them. I didn’t just listen as two characters held onto a speeding train, but stood there with them feeling the wind in my hair. Daniels performance was truly cinematic. From the moment I hit play, I was enthralled, risking physical harm and dereliction in my work duties, as I walked around in body, but never in mind, because my mind was totally absorbed in this world. Brilliance is one of those great audiobook moments that make me thankful that I have embraced this medium, and fair warning, is a book I will be force recommending to anyone who asks.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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3 responses

11 11 2013
Running down the Lists: 2013 early edition; and! a contest! | The AudioBookaneers

[…] Mystery/Thriller/Suspense list, but not PW’s list. The Guilded Earlobe really loved the audiobook of this one, read by Luke Daniels for Brilliance […]

26 12 2013
Whispersync Daily Deal: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, Into the Black by Evan Currie, and five books by Raymond Feist | The AudioBookaneers

[…] to violate everything he believes in – and betray his own kind.” The Guilded Earlobe loved this audiobook, giving it a rare “A+” and calling it “a smart blockbuster movie […]

21 06 2014
Release Week: Bears Discover Fire, The Quick, Rogues, The Fever, high-end sf sequels, and Luke Daniels, Luke Daniels, Luke Daniels | The AudioBookaneers

[…] Marcus Sakey (Thomas & Mercer and Brilliance Audio, Jun 17, 2014) — The Guilded Earlobe loved Brilliance, book one in this sf/thriller hybrid series, and here comes book two. “The […]

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