Brilliance by Marcus Sakey Twists the Superhero Genre

Marcus Sakey is known for his drama and thrillers, and it is shown in Brilliance, but this time, his hero has a gift that sets him apart from humanity. But can Nick Cooper use this ability to stop the greatest threat to America, or will he become the next victim?

The book has all the tell-tale signs of a superhero novel. A group of people born with unique gifts, a company that contains them, and a civil uprising threatening to tear apart the country. However, unlike the uncanny and awesome powers of the X-Men, Sakey’s characters have simpler gifts, but none-the-less amazing. Cooper has the ability to recognize and analyze patterns and micro expressions on a person’s face. Later we’re introduced to a woman who has the ability to “shift” through space, a gift allowing her to be where no-one is looking. We read about “brilliants” with the ability for strategy, reading code, and even altering video. The gifts are subtle, but they definitely give the 1% an advantage in life.

Cooper works for the Department of Analysis and Response, a part of the government given the responsibility of observing and if necessary intervening with Brilliants. An explosion at the stock exchange forces Cooper into an extreme situation where he thrusts himself into deep cover, taking the role of a villain in order to apprehend a terrorist. The story  unfolds as Cooper dodges pursuit from the DAR and finds himself in league with a man who he believed to be the top domestic terrorist. He questions what it means to be human, to be a “twist” (a derogatory name for a Brilliant) and what is the purpose of his gifts. It leads to one difficult decision after another and ultimately, he has to ask himself, “What is right?”

Sakey does a great job of incorporating the gifts of Brilliants in a manner that flows with the story. They don’t wake up with these new-found gifts, they’ve had their entire life for them to develop. Sakey also gives us social, educational, and political context for what the world would look like with these “powered” people. The shining moment is when Cooper visits an academy for Brilliants, and sees how they’re dehumanized, learn to detach from their “human” lives, and taught to be tools for humans. As Cooper has a child exhibiting gifts, he finds it appalling that his daughter will have to become one of these students. While far from doom and gloom, Sakey’s penchant for coloring the negative aspects of the human condition is highlighted here and we see the worst mankind has to offer. Despite their abilities beyond the average human, Sakey holds the view that the vast majority would oppress the minority. In a charged political climate, it’s almost too close to home at times. But at the base of the story, it is still a police officer styled thriller. There is an edge of intrigue, a bit of mystery, and as we reach the climax, he’s done an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing what would happen next.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Luke Daniels. Daniel’s brought the character of Cooper to life. The mannerisms, the speech pattern (patterns are a big part of the book) and his execution of the intensity of thought made for solid listening gold. I look forward to seeing how he continues to deliver the character in the two sequels.

Special Note: I also just found that Legendary Pictures has bought the rights to Brilliance and there is a chance we’ll be seeing it on the screen at some point. I wouldn’t hold out seeing as they bought it in 2013 and there hasn’t been so much as a peep. But we can hope right?

Available on Amazon | Available on Audible

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