Imagine a world of mostly mundanes, and a minority of talented mutants. Set them into conflict with each other. Have one group of good mutants try to work with the establishment and integrate themselves into a society which regards them with suspicion. Have another group of bad mutants start a new civil war so that they can take their rightful place as the leaders of the new world, a superior race. That’s pretty much the backdrop to A Better World… and it feels an awful lot like X-men to me, too.
This is the second book in a series, and maybe I would’ve engaged with it better if I’d started with the first. However it wasn’t too tricky to catch up with the general plot – there’s a sizeable chunk of recap in the opening chapters – and the conflicting factions and their representative characters soon take shape.
The best parts are undoubtedly those where the Brilliants – the new breed who all have different talents, ranging from Tier One uberhumans to almost-normal lower Tiers – flex their talents. The protagonist has an ability to perceive patterns and make connections; he’s an uber-analyst (not the most exciting gift for the hero you might think, and you might be right). More interesting is the female special ops agent who has something akin to super-stealth, and definitely the best of the Brilliants is the bad guy who functions at super-speed or, rather, he perceives normal time at a snail’s pace. This gives him huge advantages in action against even other Brilliants, but means he’s numbingingly handicapped in every other aspect of life. Everyday interactions almost literally bore him senseless which underlines his ‘differentness’ and not-so-subtle menace. He’s one of the few character in the book I would have liked to spend more time with.
These are all fascinating, original concepts which normally I’d have thoroughly enjoyed exploring at the author’s leisure. Here, however, the plot which serves them is considerably less fulfilling, and the sequences where ‘an ordinary guy’ comes to terms with martial law, the collapse of society as we know it, and makes a break for the hills with his whiny wife and obligatory babe in arms are pretty humdrum, more ‘so what?’ than ‘what if?’. Ditto the pasty POTUS and the evil manipulating Chief-of-Staff intent on war-war-war: it’s just all been done before. If the writing had been razor sharp then that could have made up for the meandering plot… but it kinda trudged along through the middle third.
The relationships between the Brilliant characters and the threat of the seriously bad dude were enough to keep my interest engaged to the end. However, A Better World didn’t inspire me to seek out the book which preceded it, nor to look out for the follow-up.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
A Better World, Book Two in the Brilliance saga by Marcus Sakey, is available at Amazon