Monday, May 28, 2018
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Marcus Sakey’s ‘A Better World’ shines with ‘Brilliance’



OK, first things first: You have to read Brilliance before you read the second book in the saga, A Better World.

You’ll be doing yourself a favor — Brilliance was my favorite novel from 2013 — and I can never assume you’ve read the first book of a series. This isn’t The Hunger Games.

But I guess my question is this: Why isn’t it? It has all the hallmarks of best-selling young adult novels: light science fiction, a reimagined past, and young protagonists and antagonists (OK, in this case young means early 30s and younger) who have special abilities. Sounds fun, right?

Plus, remember that up-and-coming crime fiction author Marcus Sakey? He isn’t the next-best thing anymore. No, he’s definitely arrived. His books have been named to numerous best-of lists and Hollywood has taken notice. Brilliance has been greenlighted to be made into a movie and it has one of the industry’s biggest stars attached. I won’t name names, but go ahead and Google it after you’ve read the books.

Anyway, back to A Better World. Sakey goes to great lengths not to mention the words mutants or mutated, but that’s the gist of what has happened. Since 1980, 1 percent of the world’s population has been born with special abilities, some more than others. Lower-tier Brilliants, as they’re called, might be especially good at writing code or performing magic tricks at cocktail parties. Higher-tier Brilliants, especially tier ones, have manipulated the stock market for unseen financial gain or planned domestic terrorist operations with chessmaster precision.

In Brilliance, Nick Cooper, a tier one with superior pattern-recognition abilities which make him almost unbeatable in combat, works for the DAR, a government agency which keeps tabs on well-meaning Brilliants and takes down nefarious ones. A Better World picks up shortly after the conclusion of Brilliance and Cooper’s actions have directly impacted the world’s state of affairs. Tier-one Brilliants — the government already places young tier ones in “academies” and now wants to place tracking devices in their bodies — are feared more than ever thanks to the domestic terrorist group Children of Darwin, who shut off supplies to Fresno, Tulsa, and Cleveland.

Cooper is enlisted by the President to help prevent a 21st century civil war between the normals and Brilliants. Along the way, Cooper must decide what is the best way to save his family and protect the country he loves. Will it be the same solution? While finding that out, Cooper will go up against his deadliest foe yet, a Brilliant that seems immune to Cooper’s special talents. And can he trust Shannon? She’s an amazingly gifted Brilliant who can go where no others can. Cooper formed an unlikely alliance with her in Brilliance, but her ties to the resistance are strong and her allegiance to him has been tenuous at best.

Like all good science fiction, Sakey includes a few allegories that aren’t hard to spot. He didn’t pick the year 1980 out of a hat (cough, millennials, cough) and the government’s willingness to sacrifice the few for the good of the many paints the saga’s version of 9/​11.

Sakey’s plot doesn’t sprawl. He keeps it tight and the twists in A Better World are aplenty, so it’s no wonder Hollywood is knocking on his door. Indeed, A Better World is much like a YA novel, but, you know, for adults.

Contact Bob Cunningham at or 419-724-6506.

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