Book Title: The Furies: A Thriller (Standalone)
Author: Mark Alpert
Number of pages: 320
For centuries, the Furies have lived among us. Long ago they were called witches and massacred by the thousands. But they’re human just like us, except for a rare genetic mutation that they’ve hidden from the rest of the world for hundreds of years.
Now, a chance encounter with a beautiful woman named Ariel has led John Rogers into the middle of a secret war among the Furies. Ariel needs John’s help in the battle between a rebellious faction of the clan and their elders. The grand prize in this war is a chance to remake the human race.
Mark Alpert’s The Furies weaves cutting-edge science into an ingenious thriller, showing how a simple genetic twist could have inspired tales of witchcraft and sorcery, and how the paranormal could indeed be possible.
(re: Goodreads @ The Furies: A Thriller by Mark Alpert)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
– A “chase-thriller” with a variety of fast-paced action sequences involving guns and explosives, a ferryboat, and many bullet ants.
– Despite romance driving the protagonists actions and the synopsis sounding as if it’s a paranormal romance… it’s not.
– Speculative-fiction that considers a variant genome which has caused disparity and civil unrest between the genders of the Furies.
– Generally immaculate world building that gives nod to historical timelines and paints a realistic landscape of various settings.
– Narrative pacing is a hit or miss as perspectives change between major and minor characters.
Sooooo…the Salem Witch Trials lay the groundwork for this mixed grab bag of witchy woo-woo speculative fiction which isn’t as paranormal as I initially thought. To be frank, I thought the Furies were the name for a species or something. Nope, it’s actually a family lineage. With the tagline of being a thriller, its success is a toss-up erring on the side of being flat through the course of its journey. While not a disastrous read by any means, there is a considerable nod given toward historical attributions emphasized by differing societies concerning the unordinary superstitious behaviours of [insert-your-religion-of-choice-here]. With this in mind, it isn’t executed to the potential that I thought it could have been. But the cover is kind of rad though.
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of The Furies: A Thriller through NetGalley for an honest review. I extend my thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me the opportunity to review this book.
Disclaimer: There may be spoilers inherent to this review from this point onward.
The prologue opens with a bang: a purging massacre of a bang. It’s pacing is urgent, furious, and what readers should expect when picking up a thriller. It has all the right notes to set the tone of the story even if it’s hundreds of years in the past. Although minor, the only inadequacy I was irked by was Lily speaking older than her age. So unless she was conditioned into understanding concepts like death, it’s quite perplexing how she can grasp the dire situation before her. As the intro closes, the image is vivid and speaks to the unfathomable carnage history has often depicted when out-of-ordinary belief and actions are discovered and normalcy is challenged.
As the narrative begins, readers are introduced to John Rogers, your run of the mill ex-gangbanger person-of-colour who’s living life by the pint of alcohol. On his adventure into the city to seek employment, he’s at the lowest point of his life but finds joy in bird watching (and not the avian type either) at the bar to fill the void that his past has brought him. At this point, he meets Ariel; a stunning and gorgeous red-haired and green eyes cut-out from the Little Mermaid. Well…close enough. Their relationship rapidly evolves from a simple bar side conversation to the intimacy in a hotel room – only for it to be short by gunfire. A skirmish ensues and Ariel becomes incapacitated by being shot in the leg. With dangers lurking in the shadows, John assumes responsibility for her safety (and life) and makes various pit stops to take Ariel back to Haven; a superficial Amish community near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This community has isolated themselves from society strictly on principle that past behaviours certainly dictate future events; meaning, a massacre of the past could very well happen again. With the backdrop following the race-against-time antics, John becomes immersed into a family feud (faux civil war) where greed and power conflict with secrecy and exposure; where gender disparity has created a rift in their society, and where the stakes teeter between life and death.
[He opened the notebook and showed John one of the pages. It was inscribed with line after line of unfamiliar symbols. Some of them looked like backwards B’s and P’s and R’s. Others resembled tree trunks and lightning bolts.
“Shit,” John whispered. “What the fuck?”
“Crazy, right? It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings.”]
The premise is quintessentially a chase-thriller with integrative wishy-washy speculative-fiction elements that inquire the what-if scenario of misunderstood humans that have enjoyed a variant mutation in their genome which has caused for centuries of their lineage to be slandered with the witch namesake. This gene deviation has prominently birthed red-haired and green-eyed individuals. However, the women enjoy prolonged lifespan (and healing capabilities) due to an enhanced X-chromosome; while the men are shafted and don’t receive anything but infertility. While times have certainly changed, there’s an innate terror that boils within humanity that surely engages the depth of one’s character in reaching and attaining a longer shelf life. If you held the cards in your hands of near-immortal life, how far would you go to preserve and protect it? By the same measure, to what extent would you go to be gifted with such possibility? It’s these two defining questions that drive the protagonists and antagonists to clash with conflicting views on the course of actions that is most promising to their kind.
There are layers to the premise that deftly highlight the importance of character ambition in an attempt to justify varying perspectives of the same story. Yet as much value as it adds to understanding each characters back story, it doesn’t actually play out well for this particular high-velocity novel. Its one thing to have quick bursts of action in pacing followed by downtime in a character’s journey, but it’s another to have fast action sequences and then completely change the perspective from one character to another. Not only does pacing become of concern, it’s the readjustment required by readers when a new voicing is heard. By peaking with suspense and then throwing in a pseudo-cliffhanger, the frantic and thrilling build-up becomes forgotten and we’re back to square one. While this may be my own reading bias, it makes the read feel clunky and stagnant at times that really affected the pacing I’d expect in a thriller-centric novel. For the most part the beginning ten-percent and the ending seventy-to-ninety-percent mark were action-filled, robust, and definite page turners. It’s the middle section muddled with infodumps and tacky scenarios (and revelations) that do little in supporting the world building or value of the journey and feel like simply pages that the reader has to trudge through.
To tangent the on-and-off world building, we’re taken into a meticulously crafted contemporary setting of the slums and its dirty-money littered streets to the polished and technologically-savvy abode in Haven. Further to this, the travels through the expanse wilderness of the North American wilderness and the Amazonian jungle were pretty immaculate. The impressive aspect of the entire concept is found in the grit of weaving together relevant history with scientific relevance. While it might not cater to science heavyweights, there’s simplicity and finesse in being able to craft a simple concept readers can run with without immense burden of trying to forcibly consider wishy-washy science. Remember, it’s speculative-fiction after all. Alternatively, I do have some reservations with how Haven was designed; mainly pertaining to the higher echelon of authority being closer to ground level than the opposite. It would seem, to me at least, that as a secret society you wouldn’t put your important assets closest to the earth’s surface in-lieu of top-down invasions – but to each their own.
[She used to say, ‘The flapping of a butterfly’s wing on one side of the world can cause a hurricane on the other. That’s what makes it so difficult to predict the future.’” Ariel removed the ring from the box and held it up to eye level. Its stones sparkled even in the cargo hold’s dim light. “But it has another meaning, at least for me. People are like butterflies. We’re lovely and fragile. And in the long run, we’re powerless. The wind is stronger than us.”]
While the story is told in third-person and follows John Rogers as the main protagonist, it’s safe to say that Ariel/Lily Fury shares as much book-time as he does. From a character standpoint, John has a lot of baggage that can portray him in a very multifaceted way. From being a person-of-colour raised through an inadequate alternative family system and growing up through the slum and gangster lifestyle to then come to terms with death and divorce, John is pretty much handed the shit end of the proverbial stick on multiple occasions. He’s extremely passive and readers are often reminded of how malleable he is because he answers to Ariel’s beck-and-call throughout the novel. Like, literally, he’s her bitch. Ariel is the poster child for women in Haven with the desire to seek answers yet doesn’t reveal anything to anyone (for the most part, anyways). This motivation is what gets her into flack with her half-brother, Sullivan Fury, who’s the story’s antagonist and potential love-interest (if you dig incest and that kind of stuff). Although he’s the driving force behind the brewing conflict, the pacing in events make him seem like a real stupid character with a less than stellar intelligence capacity in reasoning his revolt. Add to this that he for no good reason over communicates and essentially buys time for John and Ariel to get out of predicaments just makes me want to bash my face in. I mean, seriously, if you’re going to be the bad guy at least be more direct and brash about it and not meander through pages of pointless taunting detail and then have your goons get their asses handed to them. I digress.
Readers may not really connect with these two protagonists, or feel motivated to root for them as individuals any more than the mission they are set on achieving (if running away is a goal anyways). The journey they face is much bigger than the characters themselves and there isn’t enough conviction to really sell the idea that these two are capable in achieving the feats and getting out of the predicaments that they become entangled in. It’s really wishful thinking in some circumstances presented as angst-and-suspense building with last-minute escapes which sell the narrative short in favour for these two individuals. This isn’t to say that they don’t face hardships – they do. But more often than not, I felt as though there were unrealistic inclinations that supported their endeavours at the expense of the many other characters’ fates.
If that doesn’t make you exhausted, then readers will likely be turned off to find out that while the synopsis does suggest some sort of potential paranormal romance, well…I’m here to tell you that it’s not grounded in that even though it uses such elements to trod the journey along. It’s really an unrealistic approach to love. It’s actually kind of a hit-and-miss regarding to how much it’s at the forefront but also glossed over. There’s an undeniable attraction between John and Ariel – that’s for sure. Basically, all John has left is this intangible romance for 90% of the novel since he basically has nothing to live for…except Ariel. So what does he do? He takes shit from her and acts all chivalrous and faces potentially deathly situations on multiple occasions for her. Just…no. No? No. Oh, and there’s also a surprise sex-scene that wasn’t really necessary but it’s there. It’s sort of graphic… but not bondage graphic.
[Ariel smiled, clearly proud of herself for thinking of such a clever trick, But John was still worried. The sight of the enraged caiman had unnerved him. “Are you sure about this? The last thing we need is a drug-crazed crocodile chasing us.”]
There’s this entire arc that runs the course of the novel that baffles me. There’s only one single (and relatively tiny) implication that would occur if the whole Agent Larson/policing/FBI-ing was removed from the plot. Mind you that the pacing I discussed earlier with the perspective change does revert to Larson on more than one occasion. But honestly, what’s the point of this whole narrative layer if its only purpose was to provide roadblocks against the protagonists trying to reach the safety of Haven. It doesn’t even make sense that they would feel the need to be more cautious that the FBI are after them considering that they didn’t really know that they were being chased by government officials until they were in Haven. And even then, the FBI investigations were still by proxy of Sullivan’s communications and aren’t completely grounded to amount to much when the arcs constantly shifts gear in the latter half of the novel. Let it be known that their trek to the Upper Peninsula had to bypass various large tourist attractions that would call for a greater policing effort irrespective of this whole FBI element. Basically, this entire layer just made the read longer than it had to be and with no real implication on the plot. As urgent as Larson’s efforts are, it’s easily forgotten and doesn’t amount to much by the end.
Although not pertinent to my actual critique, I’m just going to take a moment to highlight an aspect this novel takes on gender and status to the point where readers can question the stereotypical actions and inactions in the face of disparity. I may be overcomplicating things but there’s a sense that this book considers feminism (or maybe just gender equality) in a roundabout way (because all witches are women, right?) to suggest that in times of inequality, there’s a distinct difference in how individuals act based on gender. As stereotyping goes, if society is led by women, and men revolt in favour of change, the resultant answer is seemingly violence and forcible measures to achieve what they want. Yet invariably, in a society run by men, women have historically held little power to such cause. I’m not extremely familiar with this kind of social advocacy so I do hope that this tangent made some sense and I’m not just crazy for thinking this book might be dabbling into a greater message.
In the end, The Furies: A Thriller by Mark Alpert is almost a revision of history that changes how witches can be perceived to not be represented by cookie-cutter definitions but from a science approach. Moreover, readers can tackle this train of thought and apply it to other buzzworthy supernatural entities being overlooked. But despite the thought-provoking nature that this may entail, I can’t overlook how some facets were developed. This isn’t to say that the novel was poorly written – because it’s not. It’s more about the underdeveloped choices that are being integrated into this read that either made no sense in progression or deterred my actual reading experience. Is the idea a refreshing spin on the old? Yes. Does The Furies fit the bill of being a thriller? Yes and no – it’s truthfully a mixed reaction. So the decision is yours.
//end of review.
Holy smokes, I talk so much nonsense. But that’s why you’re here I guess…I hope at least? I actually feel like I forgot to talk about something… zzz, oh well.