Review of Marcus Sakey’s “Better World” (Kindle Edition)/Barnes and Nobles/ Goodreads/ Books-A-Million

   This recent single, from the Dutch metal act Epica, certainly has a very powerful message that is very pertinent to one of the core issues and conflicts of Marcus Sakey’s Better World.

Thank you to Wunderkind PR- a fabulous publicity group- for providing this blogger a complimentary copy of this book, and the fact that it was complimentary in no way influenced my honest feelings about the book!!

Be forewarned, this book is dangerously gripping, and you will spend an inordinate amount of time racing till the end. Of course, this story is not stuffed with mundane inanities or one-dimensional characters that are very tempting to add to this brand of thriller fiction. Conversely, Marcus Sakey manages to preserve a wild, frenetic pace, while also managing to write interesting, flawed characters with their own complex motivations and intentions for certain actions. By starting with the second book first rather than the first novel (though, the first novel is now loaded onto my Kindle), my experience of reading this novel will be entirely different for the readers that began with Brilliance,and continued with Better World then-after.  Thankfully, Marcus also does a great job providing a brisk summary of events that happened in the last novel, without again sacrificing the high degree of suspense that never slackens at any point in the novel.

One very interesting element of Better World  is just how realistic the scenarios that play out are, especially a certain critical event towards the beginning of the novel, which ends up making you ponder just how “free and autonomous,” you really are, living in this country. Again, the action and pacing of the novel is very well maintained, but the deeper ethical, philosophical, or sociological questions that parts of this novel begged are encouraged, rather than dismissed. Better World  is very cerebral, and asks so many interesting questions that I found myself on Google sometimes, exploring the different issues raised in this novel.

Again, the one key question of this novel essentially is “Are we really free and independent?” As you keep reading, your mind will start racing, as more successive questions crop up.  The one question that kept popping up in my mind was “Is any group, which has bellicose aims (meaning violent,militaristic ones) really a group that has any civilized, moral person’s best interest in mind?” There is a thread of Machiavelli that underpins these questions, when Marcus Sakey explores the very intricate political intrigue that really made me even more immersed with the novel. You are never certain, at any point in the novel, about who is really “the true good or bad guy,” or you never entirely agree with any one character’s motivations/ modis operandi. This includes the novel’s protagonist Nick Cooper, who used to work as part of another government agency, but now works directly for the president. In these scenes where he is speaking with the president over plans, we get a really good insight into the machinations of the president’s own cabinet, and their divergent approach to things over the president.

In Better World, there is a complex hierarchy of power within all the ideological groups or parties, jostling for power in this novel. Once again, these scenes yield that question “Are we really free and independent?” Meaning, are the normal American citizens, outside this covert world of political affairs, really free and independent? Is the impending war really between norms and abnorms? In these sorts of conflicts, is the moral side and immoral side-good and evil- always this damn indiscernible?  How can we persuade those that see only victory being gained through violent ends that techniques of negotiation aren’t somehow emasculating or the weaker, immature option?

As you fret over the fates of characters and outcomes of certain nail-biting suspense scenes, one part of your mind is still thinking of those aforementioned questions that the novel raises Brilliantly, Better World keeps you on your proverbial toes, while also forcing you into a corner, where you must start mulling over the questions raised in this novel against our own present, polarizing politics.  Even though we might seem like citizens that have a lot of autonomy in a seemingly democratic, free country, Better World forces you to nonetheless think Who really has power over our fate? and Does what the government tells us in times of fractious conflict or turbulent disaster really have our best interests in mind and is the premise of what they’re saying really have any kind of veracity?  When you watch the news, all the issues raised in Better World will doubtlessly leave you think about news channels different, and it will cause you to see the parallels between issues raised in Better World and our own societal issues, like the conflict between science and religion that has prevented more  financial support for stem cell research.

I cannot say anymore, before I openly divulge far too many specific plot points, which is not the purpose of my review. Nonetheless, Better World  is a successful, cerebral, action-packed thriller that will appeal to fans of any genre. It is thoughtful enough to interest the more stalwart literary fiction readers, and readers of standard action-packed thriller fiction. Marcus Sakey succeeds with writing a very well-written, versatile thriller novel. My only minor issue with the writing is that there are times, when some of the female characters, oddly enough (not all, but some) come across as feeling slightly derivative, or not as interesting as their male counterparts. Of course, reading the first novel may rectify this problem, but I just had this vague sense that some of the female characters didn’t entirely feel as deep and interesting as some of the male characters or some of them are described sometimes in disappointingly stereotypical ways.

Again, it’s a relatively minor issue, and some people may completely overlook it, and it’s really easy, since the other elements of the novel are skillfully developed, but it’s the one thing that sometimes made me feel detached from the novel at times.  Are they interesting characters? Yes, but again their development is a bit dull and hackneyed.  Sometimes, the female characters are able to be strong at some points, but they never really get a chance to really shine as much as some of the male characters, or have as many interesting psychological layers. It’s not that they’re weak; the problem involves that they are always still second nature to men in almost all the scenes in the story. Yes, they have agency and involvement with the plot to some degree, but they’re never given as much fun potential and as many deep political machinations as the male characters.

I do love Shannon, one of the awesome brilliants that has a very interesting relationship with Nick Cooper, but she never feels as interesting as Nick Cooper, and her motivations sometimes seem muddled and not  as well-defined, either. Maybe,reading Brilliance will help clear up this problem, and all those ready to take issue with my criticism (which is why there is a comment section here) can say “See, that is why you have to read the first novel, before the second!”

With that said, I really, really enjoyed this novel, and this small issue (though the length of my writing may beg to differ) is not enough to detract from how excellent this novel is. The ethical and philosophical questions are indeed, very nuanced, and the suspense elements of the novel  are very well-developed, which never obstructs the very fast, accelerated pace of this novel. You cannot help but begin deeply involved with this book because it is a very addictive, very involved read that will have you not wanting to go to sleep. When you’re about to fall asleep, your mind will keep frantically racing over questions of the fate of certain characters and questions of”who really is the most ethical character in this novel.” It is a complex novel that really deals with morality and ethics in a complicated, relativistic manner, meaning there is no clearly defined antagonist and protagonist. That’s the way any novel attempting to be realistic in any sense needs to be.

So, pencil in a healthy dose of downtime for this week, as this novel is dangerously engrossing and you may find it impossible to stop reading. Marcus Sakey succeeds in writing a thriller, aside from a few issues, is very much a competently written, exciting, non-derivative thriller novel!! I am so stoked to read the final novel,and I will definitely be reading the first novel soon as well!

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