Please note that there may be minor spoilers for the first novel, Awakened, and a brief spoilery discussion for this book in the review. The spoilery bits for The Brink shall be marked.
The Brink by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth is the second novel in a science-fiction, action-horror trilogy called Awakened. This book picks up almost a year after the events of its predecessor and follows the survivors of the New York attack as they deal with international political ramifications of that attack on a global scale.
Awakened was an excellent creature-feature, sci-fi horror novel. It was incredibly fast-paced and grotesquely violent, which is how I tend to enjoy this subgenre in books (versus films). While The Brink maintained that high-intensity action and suspense, it also fell into some extremely formulaic traps that detracted from the creativity which drew my interest into the series to begin with.
When a new set of attacks begin transpiring all over the world, the survivors and world-leaders realise that it wasn’t merely an isolated event unique to the US’s East Coast, and that the people who have been trying to warn them of the impending chaos weren’t just “crazy” from fear and shock. The sprouting of the random attacks and the secret puppeteer(s) behind them help to kick off The Brink with some gnarly action that is not anti-queasy-friendly. It utilises the same straightforward, high-octane storytelling to draw the reader in immediately starting quickly and maintaining that velocity as much as possible with each new chapter. Then there’s the characters’ plights that help add more dimension to an otherwise rather typical great-power-used-for-evil narrative.
As we learn about how the survivors are coping through their supremely traumatic experiences, and how they plan on taking down the person (or people) behind said attack permanently, the emotional and mental strain is painfully evident. As someone who deals with their own brand of PTSD, the paranoia and fear, as well as the anger and the sense of helplessness, can be virtually tangible at-times whilst reading, like an insect crawling just beneath the surface of one’s skin. I appreciated this representation of trauma because it makes the events they experienced more authentic and realistic rather than just a violent walk-in-the-park, so to speak. It also helps to build an intimate rapport between the reader and the characters, giving us a reason to actually give a damn if they live or die. Nevertheless, beyond the scope of these two elements, everything else became subpar and it brought down an otherwise exciting series to its knees with predictability and even some problematic perspectives.
[Story Spoilers Start]
The big bad dude(s) behind this ordeal is an offspring in a long-line of Nazis. He feels that he’s carrying his father’s (or grandfather’s) and Hitler’s mantle in maintaining human excellence by “cleansing” the world. I won’t go into more detail than that (this is the bare surface of the overarching plot) because I don’t want to give away too much information. With that, I found it extremely unoriginal. I feel like in most creature-feature or sci-fi thriller types of stories where political agencies somehow get involved, it’s always the motherfucking Nazis. Always.
[Story Spoilers End]
I understand that it can be a good storytelling trope, but it also felt like a copout from exhibiting originality. When the monsters are discussed in Awakened, I liked their physiology and the evolutionary steps that they seem to have made as they’re finding their ways to higher grounds. It was different and creative and really fucking cool. I wanted to see that uniqueness trickle over into the plot and the driving dynamics that the antagonists and villains have for doing what they’re doing. When one reverts to such a blatantly boring and overused villain ideal such as [see above], then I’m going to become incredibly disheartened because that originality just went down into the gutter. Plus, I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate given the current political atmosphere.
Additionally, this villain has their own chapters from a first person perspective, and it was incredibly uncomfortable to read about how they view the world with their antisemitic (anti-anything not Christianity, actually) and pro-bigotry in ALL THE WAYS society bullshite. I can see this as being a humongous trigger for Jewish and Muslim readers, as well as any reader that has faced hate-crimes or violence due to their religious and ethnic identities. I would like to emphasise that this is done to show how much of a terrible person this character is, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read, and really in the long-run, their specific beliefs are never truly challenged as they should’ve been, so it makes one wonder if these reflect actual political views of the writer(s) themselves.
All in all, The Brink was a colossal disappointment to me and, as such, I shan’t be reading the third and final book in the series, titled Obliteration. I’ve completely lost interest in finding out how everything will wrap-up. It’s still a delightfully fast-paced and action-heavy sci-fi story, however, it’s much less horror than it is adventure and political thriller, following stale, overused crime tropes that destroyed the intrigue that helped to set it apart from others like it in the first part. My final feelings are INDIFFERENT. I would only recommend this to readers that like cheesy political thrillers that are formulaic and involve bioweapons and Michael Bay level explosions.
Publication Date: June 2019
Publisher: Harper Voyager (978-0062868961)
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action, Thriller
Series: Awakened Book 2
Page Count: 240
Content Warnings: Graphic violence including extreme body mutilation, gun violence, and physical assault. Graphic scenes of blood, gore, torture, and death (including death of children). Mass panic and paranoia. Terrorist attacks involving mass death. Pro-Nazi character perspective and propaganda. Flashback sequences to Jewish concentration camps and torture of Jewish peoples. Anti-Muslim hate and commentary. Antisemitism. Homophobic commentary (brief). Disturbing descriptions of atmosphere that may be triggering for folx prone to claustrophobia, nyctophobia, hemophobia, and ochlophobia. Kidnapping and tortured imprisonment. Mention of infidelity. Mild sexism and misogyny. Brief sexual content and nudity.
GoodReads: The Brink by James S. Murray with Darren Wearmouth