Friday, 9 December 2016

The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer

Publication date: 8th November 2016

Published by: Little, Brown & Co

Publisher's synopsis
She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn't even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They've killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realises it's her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.

Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

I should warn you this review has potential spoilers

My Review
This is Stephanie Meyer's second adult novel.  Her adult debut, The Host, was published quite a while ago (in 2008) and all her other offerings to date have been part of the YA Twilight series.  She has been reluctant to shed her skin from that series, producing the original tetralogy, a retelling from the male protagonist's POV, a spin-off featuring a side character, and more recently a re-imagining of the original story.

Although in a different setting with new characters, The Host was not a million miles away from Twilight's original story, either and neither is The Chemist. 

That said, of the books I have read, (the Twilight tetralogy and The Host) I consider them all to be worthy publications.  Can I say the same about The Chemist?

Meyer has created a new world with a protagonist (Alex) who is a former US secret agent who worked in counter-terrorism.  Suffice to say, her job required her to do awful things to awful people for the 'greater good'.  She had the code name 'The Chemist' and, due to the nature of her work, refers to herself as (a monster). Her security clearance was so high that in the end she knew too much and had to go into hiding in order stop those in charge of the black ops unit she worked for from killing her. Now her life is like that recurring nightmare where you are constantly on the run.  She is being chased by assassins sent by her former employers all of whom, so far, she has managed to evade.  Three years on and she is tracked and contacted by her former employers and offered a potential way out (if she agrees to do one more job).  She is given a file on a would-be terrorist named Daniel who is her target.  But when she comes into contact with him, he turns out to be an innocent.  Despite how dangerous Alex is, Daniel is not afraid, instead, he trusts her completely.  At this point we are introduced to Kevin, Daniel's twin brother and the real reason the innocent got caught up in this mess.

The book has been dedicated to Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross (which is rather puzzling since they are both fictional characters).  But the dedication does give a clue about what you can expect, or at least what the author wants you to expect.  I would warn fans of Robert Ludlum's original novels featuring Jason Bourne (and Eric Van Lustbader's continuation of the franchise) not to be fooled.  You should steer clear of this book to avoid disappointment.  It does not come close to the rigor and sophistication of those books.  As secret agents go, both Alex and Kevin are unconvincing.  Instead, what you get with this novel is a post-ironic Team America plot and characters.  You have the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys', and the 'good guys' constantly refer to the 'bad guys' as "The Bad Guys". This is a world where guns are sexy and torture is necessary in order to stop "The Bad Guys" doing really bad stuff.  Here is a story where all the non-Caucasian characters are 2 dimensional, inconsequential and, above all, expendable, while the dogs' characters (yes there is a pack of dogs working alongside Alex, Daniel and Kevin) are so developed they have human-like qualities.

If you are familiar with Meyer's YA books you will not be surprised to learn that the romantic sub-plot is Twilightesque  (Yes, that old chestnut!).  Telling the same story over and over is not necessarily a bad thing, except when there is nothing new to say whatsoever.  You may be pleased to learn that no love triangle develops (but I believe the author is just delaying the inevitable in that regard - it is bound to feature in the sequel).

Reluctant or not, rejuvenation is essential now.  Meyer has to shed that (old) skin in order to reveal a youthful healthier one. (She has demonstrated with previous books that she is capable of producing [dare I say] decent, if controversial, work - so there is no reason why she cannot do so again.)

If I were to describe The Chemist in one word it would be indulgent.

I like to end my reviews on a positive note so I would say that it does start out promising.  The first 15-20% reads well before it begins its steady decline.

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