Brilliance by Marcus Sakey


– By Jacob Foxx –

Superheroes have dominated the box office and the comic book arena for some time now. The novel was one of the few formats that wasn’t conducive to the subgenre. Marcus Sakey is among the few that have broken through to write a great superhero novel without shamelessly catering to adolescent male fantasies. Brilliance is a thrilling action sci-fi novel that gets better the more you read.

In 1980, an unusual mutation appears that gives children enhanced cognitive abilities. As time passes, the world becomes uneasy with their gifts, calling the children abnorms or twists. Their fear is vindicated when a group of abnorm terrorists assassinate a U.S. Senator and kill dozens of innocent people. Nick Cooper is part of the Dept. of Equitable Services, a covert special operations group tasked with identifying abnorm threats and taking them down with no regard for civil liberties or due process. His ultimate target is a man known only as John Smith. To take Smith down, Cooper goes undercover, pretending to be a rogue abnorm who has switched to the dark side.

Brilliance is essentially a realistic version of X-Men. Instead of incredibly outrageous superpowers, the gifts of the abnorms are much more credible and actually have some foundation in genetics and neuroscience. The story and dialogue is more Bourne Identity and less Marvel Comics. The conflict between the majority normals and minority abnorms touches on themes of discrimination, prejudice, fear, and even childhood bullying. But make no mistake, Brilliance is primarily an action novel. The deep themes are touched upon but aren’t the focus. Sakey also did his homework on law enforcement tactics, surveillance, undercover ops, and bureaucratic process. I greatly appreciated his attempt to build a serious plot with plenty of detail, rather than just another superhero fantasy.

At the same time, it is not groundbreaking, and sticks closely to the X-Men tropes. Nick Cooper is the protagonist that feels like a combination of Wolverine and Cyclops. Smith is Magneto. There is also the beautiful Shannon Azzi, a talented operative working for Smith who plays the Mystique role. The love story wasn’t the typical male fantasy of a beautiful, fawning, passive love interest you find in sci-fi action novels. It is yet another way Sakey successfully separates himself from the mediocre sci-fi action.

While not particularly original, Brilliance is well-written, exciting, and leaves you wanting more. The sequel was recently released and is on my to-read list. I highly recommend this one to science fiction readers, comic book lovers, and fans of the Bourne Identity. With such broad appeal, it’s no wonder why Brilliance has enjoyed commercial success.