I initially picked up Brilliance because I had been hearing a lot about it from the same places that told me lovely things about Lexicon, which I adored, and because those places told me it was a book about people with special powers who have to live in a world that doesn’t like special powers, which, yes, I am going to read that. But then I thought that Scott might also be interested, seeing as how we’ve watched the not-terribly-good-but-entertaining-anyway TV show Alphas together, which seemed to be of a similar nature to the book, and so I found it on audio and brought it along on our northern migration.
I’m not sure if it was the expectation of a different kind of story, or the fact that the audio narration felt bigger than the story itself, but I was not as thrilled with this book as I wanted to be.
First, the story. The premise is that back in the eighties, kids started being born with special brain skills that allowed them to think faster or bigger or more creatively than their peers, and they were eventually labelled Brilliants or Abnorms or Twists or “those guys that we hate for being smarter than us and taking our jobs.” As you do. In this particular book, we’re following along with a Brilliant called Nick Cooper who works for a department that corrals Brilliants who are trying to kill government people or blow up buildings full of citizens in an attempt to create some sort of Brilliant-ocracy. His department gets wind of a huge plot of the latter kind, and he tries to stop it but fails, and then he convinces his boss to let him use this failure as a way to “go rogue” and infiltrate the bad guys and take them down. As you may guess, Cooper soon finds out that things are not what they seem.
The world-building in this book is really fantastic. Sakey presents an incredibly plausible reality where technologies are advanced by Brilliants and prejudices that might normally have turned into, say, constitutional amendments have been ignored in favor of anti-Brilliant sentiment and the government has figured out a way to harness the power of Brilliants without having to consider them human beings. Things start out seeming pretty much the way they are in our actual world, but as the differences are doled out throughout the novel you slowly realize just how messed up the world has become.
But plot-wise, things are pretty predictably thriller-shaped, with our protagonist with the home issues and the secret organizations and the femme fatale and the things not being what they seem. And that’s not a bad thing, if you like thrillers, but I was hoping for something a little more think-y and a little less action-y and I did not get it.
I had a hard time with the audio narration, its one redeeming quality being that the narrator gave everyone a distinct voice and I always knew who was talking. However, those distinct voices were taken way over the top (and here I’m not sure whether to blame the narrator or the producer or both) and often they were imbued with emotions that seemed incongruous with what was actually being said (see: Dumbledore in the Goblet of Fire movie). This is not a short book, but by the time I was getting sick of the thriller plot and the voices I was too invested in finding out what was going to happen to give up on it, and besides we were in, like, West Virginia and I wasn’t going to be able to acquire a new book!
So I don’t know. It may be that if you eyes-read this book, you’ll get a better narration from your brain than from the audio, and maybe the plot reads better, too? I liked the world that Sakey created so much that I don’t want to steer anyone away from this book, but if you eyes-read it and it’s still got problems, let me know!
Recommendation: For fans of alternate realities and super-brain-powers.