Reading the second book in a dystopian trilogy when you haven’t read the first can be a challenge. Knowing this, author Marcus Sakey wisely takes great care in A Better World by bringing new readers up to date through a series of flashbacks that summarize the plot of the terrific Brilliance, the trilogy’s first installment. Earth is now divided between the mutated “abnorms” and the more average “norms,” and the abnorms—or “brilliants,” as they are also called—are being targeted by a paranoid norm populace. The abnorms appear to be fighting back through steadily increasing terrorist attacks.
Accordingly, the United States finds itself in the midst of an ugly civil war, one which has left cities decimated and children orphaned among the ruins. Trying to stem the increasing tide of terrorism is federal agent Nick Cooper. Cooper, an abnorm himself, finds himself torn between the two warring sides while tracking the abnorm terrorists’ leaders.
This intraspecies war is an exciting premise, and the author handles it with skill. But in this second installment of the trilogy, Cooper comes across as a fairly flat character, leaving the reader more drawn to the difficulties of scientist Ethan Park and his family. Park’s wife Amy has just given birth to baby Violet, but because of physical problems, Amy is unable to nurse the girl. The few stores that remain open have run out of milk, which leaves the stressed scientist begging neighbors for cans of condensed milk. That Park will go to any lengths to feed his young family gives his chapters an emotional resonance not always found in other sections of the book.
The chapters featuring Cooper make A Better World read more like a high-octane political thriller, which can present a problem for the non-politically-inclined reader. As Cooper attempts to stem the tide of terrorism while also dealing with duplicitous politicians, we wade through a sea of acronyms, such as the MOI (Monitoring Oversight Initiative), a law requiring all abnorms to be micro-chipped, and the DAR (Department of Analysis and Response), a federally funded anti-terrorist organization. As a result, the “human-ness” of the national emergency frequently gets lost in the shuffle. The final chapters of the novel are problematic, too, leaving the reader to await the third installment in the trilogy to find out what happens. Unresolved plot points can be tempting stratagems for series authors, who often believe such omissions help sell the final book in a series. But frankly, readers deserve better.