Genevieve Valentine
Saga Press
Release Date:  June 28, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4814-2515-5

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Welcome to diplomacy.  Adapt or die.

There is something about Genevieve Valentine’s writing that I find… incredibly fetching.  While many authors compose stellar narratives and strikingly compelling prose, she is one of the few who creates worlds where the audience is an unacknowledged entity.  When I read her works I feel as if I am seeing something incredibly intimate, not in a voyeuristic sense but because the story unfolds in complete and utter naiveté outside its own being.

Maybe it’s something as simple as not relying on large amounts of exposition and expecting the reader to catch information as they can,  but in having to find my own way in her works, I feel more profoundly bound to the tales she weaves.  Like hiking to a hidden falls to see it firsthand rather than relying on others’ photographs or descriptions.  There is no comparison.  And it’s wonderful.

Ms. Valentine’s latest novel is Icon, a sequel to 2015’s futurist political thriller, Persona, and I will say upfront that you will need to have read the first book in order to keep from being lost in the second.  But both are amazing books, and deserve your attention.

In Icon, we are reunited with Suyana, the Face of the United Amazonian Rainforest Coalition (a country made up of the unification of Brazil and Peru), operating within the realm of the International Assembly. (Think of a Face as a mashup of a politician and a fashion celebrity, and the IA as the United Nations – with fangs.)  After surviving the assassination attempt that opens Persona, and winding her way through various conspiracies, manipulations, undercover activities and photo ops, she has emerged as a surprising if still lower level power player in international politics, aided, in part, with her ongoing relationship with Ethan, the Face of the United States (the US being one of the “Big Nine” – countries with decided political clout).  Her all important approval ratings are skyrocketing, and everyone is taking notice.

Daniel Park also makes his return in Icon, still in his paparazzi role (“snaps” in local parlance) but now as one of the contractors with Li Zhao’s powerful independent publicity network (think TMZ with street cred).  He is assigned to shadow Suyana due to his connection to her, ever in the background, lurking, but always there, a touchstone for Suyana as the world – and the IA’s political games – swirl around her.

The problem is that the IA is determined to build an environmental research facility in UARC territory, but the Chordata, an eco-terrorist organization, is convinced the facility is merely a front for corporate interests.  Suyana’s relationship with both the IA publicly and Chordata clandestinely threatens to put her reputation – and life – in peril, especially when violence erupts despite her concerns as to the motivation of both sides.  Little does Suyana realize that the strain between the terrorists and the international government is just the tip of the iceberg, and in order to keep the powers that be from surreptitiously cementing their iron clad sovereignty, she’s going to have to act fast.  And there’s a good chance that people are going to die.

It’s an amazing premise, an amazing plot, and it is realized with consummate skill, balancing a publicity driven, celebrity worshipped outer face with a taunt, incredibly complex inner world where players appear as adorable kittens yet rend the world like cunning tigers from deep in their own shadowy kingdoms. Exposure flirting with exposé, dazzling smiles hiding cunning minds, every act, every motion made with deliberate purpose in order to drive up ratings even while setting in motion life or death power plays – this is dynamic reading, even if it seems like the protagonists are a step ahead of it all, including – and perhaps especially – the unacknowledged reader.

When I reviewed Persona a year ago, I called it “a taunt, gripping, amazing read that was a flawless synthesis of politics, glamour, suspense and intrigue”, and said it was unlike anything else I’ve ever read.  “I’m still reeling, ” I gushed.  “And dang, I’d sure like to reel some more.”

Mission accomplished, Ms. Valentine.

~ Sharon Browning

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