4 out of 4 stars
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Sophistication is a sci-fi thriller by Matt Casamassina. A cloaked, hooded figure appears in the United States Senate in the Capitol building in Washington. Striding forward to the podium, interrupting the senator currently speaking, the faceless figure says: "In one month, your ineffective order ends. In one month, we take over." Before the security staff can react, the figure vanishes in a bright flash of electricity. People view online videos of the incident a hundred million times in the first two hours alone. Carl Brannigan, a basement-dweller in charge of internet rumours at the FBI, calls himself the "Unexplained Occurrences Division". One of the FBI's directors summons him to join the task force investigating the senate intruder. But what do Miyuki Mitsuraga, a young journalist, and Kevin Splinter, the quadriplegic son of a senator, have to do with the mysterious cloaked figure and its ominous warning?
This is one of the most gritty and addictive thrillers I have read for Online Book Club. It features great characters with plenty of depth, intriguing plot twists, advanced technology, and extraordinary feats, sometimes seemingly in complete defiance of science. In addition, Casamassina really knows how to hook in his reader, dragging you relentlessly through a 500-page book as if it were only 300 pages. I never lost interest at any point in the narrative, and I never lost the sense that the author really cared about his characters, plot, and subplots. I cannot stress enough that if you like powerful sci-fi thrillers, this is an absolute must-read.
The characterisation of the basement-dwelling Carl is strong right from the start, with plenty of human details such as his ageing face and unkempt suit. The strength and intelligence of Japanese video game journalist Miyuki are clear immediately when she outwits a 12-year-old boy who sends her an abusive email by uncovering his identity and calling his mother. Character development is excellent throughout the book, with human weaknesses and frailties explored as part of the various subplots. Also, the author explains character motivations in such a way that I could easily see both sides of the situation, even though humans consider the "Cloaks" terrorists right from the beginning.
There is some neat abbreviated description, such as: "Weeds everywhere. The steady rhythm of water leaking. Crumbled concrete. Splintered wood. Shards of glass. Broken tiles. Ruination." This sets the scene beautifully without writing long, wasteful sentences resulting in a bloated paragraph. Casamassina also incorporates a strong message about the deplorable current state of our world: crime, stupidity, corrupt politicians, waste, and inefficiency. He does it without being preachy, but it certainly makes you think where we might be as a species if we only had effective leadership not driven by greed, self-interest, and the lust for power.
The editing is also excellent, with only a few minor typographical errors and incorrect words used. Aside from these errors, I found nothing else to dislike about this book. Overall, Sophistication is an addictive read featuring great characters, amazing feats, and technology you must read about to believe. For this reason, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I would recommend it to fans of both crime and sci-fi thrillers; however, be aware that it does contain a sex scene and strong graphic violence.
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