Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Book Review: "Agents of Change" by Guy Harrison
"An amiable corporate manager by day and a matchmaker whenever he can get around to it, Calvin Newsome’s new dream job falls into his lap when he’s recruited by a secret worldwide organization whose agents use uncanny abilities to empower and influence everyday downtrodden individuals. Disaster strikes, however, when an elaborate scheme leaves Calvin as a prime murder suspect…and his new employer is presumably to blame.
With the authorities on his heels and his life left in ruin, Calvin uses his new powers to blend in until a journey for freedom becomes a quest for peace. As the agency’s rival organization threatens the security of all of earth’s inhabitants, he teams up with unlikely allies and battles surprising enemies hellbent on unleashing their power in a twisted version of justice, innocent lives be damned."
Guy Harrison's espionage thriller is a fast-paced exploration of corruption and abuse of power. The central character, Calvin, is isolated from his life through his induction into the Agency of Influence. He is then isolated from this new world when he is accused of murder. Calvin's journey is a simple but powerful one: he is a man being pushed continually out of his comfort zone. When he takes action he doesn't try to regain his old life, he seeks to push his enemies out of their own comfort zones and create a new world order. It's an exciting story packed with twists, disasters and suspense.
Calvin's characterisation emphasises his incongruity with each new environment: he doesn't conform to stereotypes or cliched modes of behaviour, and this pushes his character towards being more original than your average super-spy. On occasion I found the passages expanding his character to be a little clumsy and detail-heavy, with exposition which was unnecessary, as Calvin's actions speak for themselves.
Calvin's induction into the Agency is vivid and imaginative: imbued with special abilities and a specific agenda Calvin's foray into his new existence is intriguing. I did however find that throwing him into heavy cases in a "field" situation with nothing but an instruction manual stretched credibility. Of course it chimes with the wider theme of Calvin being given no support by his agency, and even being set up for failure, but it still seemed to be a little precipitate in the induction process. I likewise found the "influence" exerted over Carla Andrews to be disproportionate to the relationship established with her, and her new determination was at odds with her previous indolence and depression, with insufficient cause to change.
Calvin is a strong character who drives the narrative well, but from a feminist point of view I found the supporting cast of female characters to be a little lacklustre. They are either evil or cold, but as Calvin is usually the focus of attention their deficiencies aren't too distracting.
The powers used by the two agencies add a different dimension to the espionage genre. They are simple but well depicted, and they grow into the central theme and argument of the novel: the nature of power, how people use it and how it uses them.
This is book one in a forthcoming series, and it ably establishes Calvin, the two opposing agencies, and the world caught between them. It's an exciting thriller with plenty of surprises.