Back in 2013 I was walking through a bookstore and the cover of Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey, caught my eye. I was lured in by its stand out art and the blurb on the back of the book promising a different take on mutants. The book focused around mutations that improved a person’s abilities like pattern analysis, strategic insight, or computer programming instead of superpowers. It primarily followed the relationships of mutants and normals in a world where the normals were becoming increasingly obsolete thanks to a very small number of gifted brilliants. While I think the book faltered a little in execution, I ended up really enjoying the premise and story to the point where I was excited for the sequel, A Better World. The sequel continued to hone and improve the ideas of the first book while expanding the scope and story. It was a stand out book, but not quite enough for me to stand on the rooftops shouting its praise. However, the final installment, Written In Fire, has stepped up and achieved brilliance.
Written In Fire continues the climactic story from A Better World, in which the world starts to essentially burn down. Relations between brilliants and normals have continued to deteriorate even further and the world is falling into chaos. The book manages to increase the stakes and danger slowly throughout the novel, culminating in a fiery showdown that nicely fits the series as a whole. The pacing is much better than in previous novels, with Cooper, the main protagonist, problem solving on the fly as he tries to hold the world together by the seams. Sakey does an impressive job of immersing you in in Cooper’s dilemma and I found myself frantically trying to ferret out the antagonist’s designs. The book is easily the most exciting of the three, and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
Part of the reason the book is so exciting is the slight departure in style Sakey made from his earlier two novels. In many ways, Brilliance and A Better World feel like a well written set up for the execution of Written In Fire. The first two books focus on world building and exploration of mutations; showing you the potential many of the brilliants have for disaster. As I think a finale should, Written In Fire focuses much less on this world building and much more on the promise of disaster made real. All the dangers hinted at in the previous books were well executed and made for a book that I could not put down. The book also tied up the series nicely, while leaving Sakey definite room to make more and continue the series.
All that being said, the book was not perfect. I felt that Sakey still tended to go a little too hard on the loving parent angle, and delved a little too much into Cooper’s personal life at inappropriate times. While I certainly enjoy and appreciate the value of progressing a protagonist’s love life, it is really hard to take a character seriously when he is monologuing about which girl to choose instead of focusing on dealing with the fact that an entire continent is on fire. A little less time spent on the subject and a little more focus on Cooper’s personal life would have made me care about it a lot more. In addition, while this might seem like a minor gripe I am extremely disappointed that the cover art style changed from its incredible minimalist style on Brilliance and A Better World to its more generic version for Written In Fire. It may not seem important, but Brilliance had one of my all time favorite covers and I was really looking forward to seeing what they did with Written In Fire.
However, these are fairly minor gripes to an otherwise very enjoyable series. The series flows much better as a whole than as individual books, and upon finishing Written In Fire I found myself reassessing and improving the scores of the first two novels. With a standout finale, The Brilliance Saga is a very original take on the realm of mutants and is a take I recommend highly.
Written In Fire – 8.5/10
The Brilliance Saga – 7.5/10
*Note, netgalley provided me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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