About thirty years before Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance opens, about 1% of children born started to show amazing mental abilities. These children were leaps and bounds ahead of their peers in terms of pattern recognition, understanding body language and numbers, and other gifts. Dubbed brilliants, twists, or abnorms, these children become a feared part of American society after a few of them gamed Wall Street so hard that it destroyed the world’s economy.
By the time we meet our protagonist, abnorm Nick Cooper, a government agency has been created to hunt down and “terminate” potentially criminal abnormals. Cooper is gifted at reading peoples’ intentions in their body language, which makes him a great hunter for the agency. After he fails to prevent a massive abnorm terrorist attack in New York, Cooper hatches a plan to become a double agent and track down the man responsible. As he slides deeper and deeper in to the twist underground, he starts to question his loyalties and his conscience.
Brilliance is a highly entertaining thriller. Not only are there gunfights and explosions and chases, but Sakey also gives you an exploration of the tension between being a terrorist and a freedom fighter. Depending on the perspective of whoever you ask, the abnorms in this book are either one or the other. To the American government, abnorms are people that need to be controlled. All children are tested at age eight and, if they test high enough on the brilliant scale, they’re sent to academies–chilling psychological experiments in action. If an abnorm commits a crime, they can be killed on sight. But then, they also destroyed the economy and occasionally blow things up. On the other hand, in Sakey’s version of America, the government passed a measure to implant tracking devices in the necks of all abnormal citizens. Both sides have their points.
It’s not hard to read this book as a not-so-subtle metaphor of terrorism in general. But Sakey doesn’t belabor the point, which I really appreciate. Even though its clear who you’re supposed to root for, Sakey leaves the questions and dilemmas in the background most of the time.
I’m glad that Sakey didn’t leave everything hanging at the end of this book. Unlike most series openers, Brilliance has a satisfying ending all on its own. There’s a brief coda the sets up the conflict for the next book in the series, of course. I have been successfully hooked on this series.