3 out of 4 stars
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When her field mission to put a stop to the campaign of the antiestablishment presidential candidate in the Philippines goes terribly awry, Ananke thinks her boss had set her up. Things drift even further off-course when she is abducted while going after her boss to clear her name. Waking up in a windowless cell dressed in what she could identify as precisely her style of clothing and being served her favorite meals, Ananke ponders on the duality of the situation: is she a prisoner or a guest?
It turns out a mysterious, suspiciously altruistic Committee made of highly-influential people brought together five assassins, whose recently “failed” missions got them simultaneously excommunicated from their networks in an improbable coincidence. Ananke is offered the clearance of her name and double her going rate to lead the newly-formed team in solving a philanthropic, although time-sensitive, case. Can she trust the Administrator of the Committee?
In this fast-paced thriller, The Excoms, Brett Battles reveals a world in which higher forces are scheming toward an enigmatic goal. The dynamics within the Committee interweaved with those within the newly-formed team and the fairly complex development of each of the agents make this a read as vivid as a first-person action-adventure game. This book is for an audience that enjoys delectable blends of meticulous James-Bond-like scenes of assembling deadly needles disguised as rings and planning pressed-for-time operations with occasional light humor that allows the personages to show their true colors.
What I liked most in this first book of The Excoms series was the diversity of the characters. Ananke is an unapologetic, no-nonsense, African-American female leader. While thoroughly professional, her personality gains dimension through the subtle romantic tension between her and the "hunter" of the team. I truly liked that this was only a minor subplot and that her character develops independently from a male figure. What is more, the added presence of a few other strong and unconventional female characters expands the horizon of how females are portrayed in works of fiction.
All in all, this novel is a page-turner. However, it does take its time to pick up the pace since the first half sets the stage for the entire series. Unfortunately, the symmetry of the chapters in which the five agents are introduced and then captured allows for a certain amount of predictability. Additionally, while I appreciated the light humor that breaks up the tension that accumulates throughout the storyline, I wish it went past clichés and superficial banter—I would say this was what I disliked most about the book. Nevertheless, the author more than compensates for these minor flaws in the second half, unraveling a plot that leaves the reader guessing and ending on an intriguing note. For this reason, I am taking only one star off and rate The Excoms three out of four stars.
I am decidedly curious about the team’s next adventure.
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