Book Title: Mind Breach – Firstborn Saga, Book 2
Author: Anthony Vicino
Publication Date: November 15, 2017
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
It’s been six months since the events of “Time Heist” and the resistance group Castle has marshaled its forces in an attempt to take down Adam, hiding inside the body of Derek Hamilton, the President of Unity’s government. Working behind the scenes of the government, he’s trying to take complete control over Unity’s people and the cyberspace they inhabit. Working with Eve’s forces from Castle, Tom Mandel is part of a motley resistance group of people working to bring down Adam once and for all. As Castle implements this plan to assassinate Derek, Tom must go on an urgent side mission, which has a lot of personal meaning for him. Will Castle’s plan succeed or will they go down in flames and die trying?
The first novel was an action-packed trip into the personal hell of Tom Mandel. Told from his point of view, we experienced how messed up his life was and how it was shaken down to the foundation and rebuilt. This novel explores several different viewpoints, which drills down deeper into all the different characters we meet, their motivations and their abilities. It also effectively expands upon the universe depicted in the first novel, going deep into the psyche of all of the characters we meet.
There are a select group of characters on both sides of this war. On Castle’s side, we get to see more of Tom’s perspective as well as some other characters. We get to spend more time with Cedar, who is still reeling from the events from the previous novel and trying to get a grip on her life. Lost in her loss, she fights to regain her confidence and her abilities to effectively embrace her Ghost abilities in the upcoming battle. Can she do so or will her thoughts distract her and compromise the team and its goals?
All of the characters here are very memorable through their dialogue, their actions, and their personalities. Castle’s group consisting of Eve, Queen, King, Joker are all smart, brave, honorable and damaged characters who all get plenty of time to shine over the course of this novel. But Deuce takes the cake as a gruff but lovable lug who gets some of the best one-liners and one of the most touching scenes with his inherent nobility.
This also applies to the bad guys, who are not merely mustache-twisting villains who are evil for the sake of being evil. Their divided loyalties and conflicted beliefs inform their actions and impact the choices they make. Mika and her boss Daniel Brandt have a relationship that is like that of a foster father to a daughter. This dynamic was a highlight for me, with all the emotional complications that come with it, set against a life or death struggle of different ideals. While Mika is a ruthless killing machine, she also is striving to understand something meaningful within her that eludes her.
Mika also experiences mysterious visions in her mind and we wonder what their significance is. But she is also a lost soul while fighting for a cause that she begins to question. This doesn’t stop her from being the most fearsome and reputable combatant on the battlefield as she fights to understand her identity (or is it identities?) while being set loose on Castle.
Daniel inwardly questions whether Adam’s insidious plan is the best course of action. Torn between his loyalty to Adam and to Mika, he is faced with difficult choices. When push comes to shove, he is also deadly in his own right. But over the course of the novel, when his motivation starts to waver, it affects his ability to effectively do his job.
When I stopped to think about it, all of these characters are just severely messed up in the head! The mental damage inflicted on all of them and how they cope with it is one of the most fascinating aspects of this novel. Each of them are complicated individuals grappling with harsh realities and the author takes good care into making them multifaceted individuals.
As we experience the story from each character’s point of view, I also was more invested in each one and their individual outcomes and whether they lived or died. Because the author delves so deeply into their psyches, we understand them on a very psychological level that brings them to life and makes them into more than just toy action figures who have amazing abilities. They are flesh and blood people with real motivations and beliefs and I felt real pain when they died, made sacrifices for the sake of the greater good or got grievously injured.
While emphasizing character, the author uses each of them as chess pieces in an elaborate game of move and countermove that comprises the plot here. The action here is relentless and fast paced but also has an added amount of urgency to it as well. The whole novel takes place over the course of a couple of days and no moment of it is wasted. The reverberations of Castle’s assassination attempt on Adam (in the guise of Derek) lead to many breathtaking battles that are bare-knuckle brawls of intelligence in an effort to try and outwit the opposing forces. Both Castle and Adam’s forces lose many soldiers in the fight to annihilate one another. Soldiers on both sides are captured, they escape, they die and they live to fight again as Castle tries to shift the balance of power and try to destroy Adam’s grip on Unity and its government.
The fighting sequences rival something out of the original “The Matrix” movie, filled with imaginative and breathless car chases, hand-to-hand combat sequences, mass chaos and lots of explosive destruction. All of this is enhanced with nanotechnology, unusual weaponry and of course, fights with bladed weapons of all shapes and sizes. It made for adrenaline-fueled reading that made it hard to put down.
The dystopian future depicted here is fantastic, bleak and was truly nihilistic. The technology used is breathtaking and enriches the world building to make for a complex environment where there are surprises around every corner and the lush details are fully fleshed out. From the depths of the mind inside a virtual reality to cyberspace to The Stream from which all information flows, this is a world that is well thought out.
From the nanobots to the nanocomps embedded in every person’s arm, to the tech that allows you to be reborn and “re-sleeved” in the body of someone else once you have died, there’s a lot of details that demonstrated to me how much consideration the author put into creating this world. There’s also plenty of weapons to make for exciting action scenes where I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Just when I thought I knew where the story would go, it would go in a completely different direction and delighted me when it did so.
In a novel where you can die and be reborn, it can be hard to maintain suspense when this ability is lurking in the corner of my mind, making me wonder if it lowers the stakes somewhat and robs certain deaths of their power. But the author overcame this potential shortcoming by throwing in different circumstances and technology that could potentially negate re-sleeving as an option if death came calling.
There is a massive twist to this novel that comes about near the end that puts the events of this entire novel in complete perspective and explains why much of it happened the way it did. This mind-blowing twist was reminiscent of the many different “what the hell just happened?!?!” twists I found in “Time Heist”, upending the novel completely. It also reminded me how different these two novels are from a storytelling perspective.
There are other twists as well, but they don’t necessarily impact the plot as much as the emotional gut-punch they present to each character who learns of them. But they appropriately deepened my understanding of the character and my appreciation for the characterization as a result.
The pace of this novel continues to seamlessly flow from scene to scene with each switch to another character’s point of view. Each one of them has a delicious wit as their snarky humor makes for punchy dialogue that is unique and adds to the rhythm and pace of the plot.
I really would have appreciated a cast of characters and their abilities placed at the beginning of the novel here. There’s plenty of people from the previous novel and well as new people introduced here that it took a little while to learn who they were and remember their individual character arcs and special abilities. Though each one is superbly differentiated from one another, it took a few chapters to immerse me fully back into this universe and the characters that inhabit it. But once I did, the thrill ride just continued to add more twists and turns to it as a result, making for compelling reading. There’s also plenty of connective tissue from the first novel to this one to remind me what happened before and how it affects all of them now.
Overall, this novel is a deft blend of strong character development and fast-paced, mind-bending action. It presents a triumphant return to a dystopian world filled with wonders, a deliciously complicated plot, flawed characters and a war to end all wars across the world that the author created here. The final book in this trilogy promises to wrap up all the dangling plotlines left over from this novel and it’s going to be really difficult to wait to see how the final novel ends.
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