Just occasionally a book comes along about which you know absolutely nothing and so have no expectations. That was exactly the position when I sat down with The Adept.
Within a few short chapters, I was hooked. The Adept turns out to be a slightly silly, but immensely fun tale of a secret sect fighting each other using magical powers, all set against the backdrop of our world.
This is one of the strengths of The Adept, mixing a strong fantasy element with the style and pace of a thriller. The plot is preposterous, yet always seems to remain within the realms of the possible. Each revelation takes the book further away from reality, yet at the same time, it never becomes totally stupid. To get a rough idea of where it's pitched, think of the film Highlander and you won't be too far away. It's that same daft but fun mix of the unlikely and the mundane.
The plot itself is highly derivative and really offers little new on the whole sect-who-will-kill to-keep-their-secret-hidden sub-genre of fiction which has emerged over the last few years. It gleefully nicks from pretty much every book that has gone before it and copies the staples of the genre with no sense of shame. The few new ideas it does throw in are hardly earth-shattering, but they are entertaining and contribute to the enjoyable nature of the book.
The Adept is all the better for the fact that it doesn't try to overcomplicate things. At heart, it's little more than traditional thriller. The two heroes, David (an insurance investigator) and Susan (the now much-clichéd academic), stumble across a secret and set out to investigate it; the bad guys try and silence them. There could have been the temptation to complicate matters by building a convoluted back-story around the secret sect comes from and why they spend as much time apparently fighting each other as they do tracking down David and Susan. Doing this could have seriously slowed down the pace and so is pretty much ignored. Some might find this lack of detail frustrating; I found it liberating and a refreshing change. Rather than burdening the book with unnecessary plot development, Robert Finn wisely concentrates on the chase element, making the book a thrilling read.
The decision not to provide a complicated back story gives the reader the chance to get to grips with the idea of magic operating in "our world" which is critical to the plot, without being sidetracked by minor details. Finn leaves the door open so that more in depth exploration of secret society is still possible. This is the first of three books (followed by Ex Machina and Underlife) and some of these aspects are expanded upon in subsequent tales. By using Adept to establish the world and by concentrating on a single plot strand, Finn produces a great standalone book which can be read in isolation, or in conjunction with the others in the series.
The book itself is quite long (around 400 pages), but never feels that way. Indeed, it's such an enjoyable read that you'll most likely whizz through it in a few days at most. It was one of those books where I just didn't want to put it down, so well-judged is the plot-line, the action and the characters.
What perhaps sets The Adept apart from so many other copycat thrillers is that it has a real tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and doesn't take itself at all seriously. Whilst it never descends into parody, there is always a lightness to the book and a strong vein of humour running through it. This particularly comes through in the relationship between the main characters who bicker and banter their way through their adventures.
Like the plot, the characters are not the most original in the world. David and Susan turn out to have EXACTLY the skills the plot needs them to have! David, in particular, is introduced to the reader in a particularly clumsy way which screams "I'm giving this information to you because it will be important later". Things are no better amongst the sub-characters, where there's the loyal mate offering solid, homespun advice and the slightly dippy, old fashioned professor. These are both clearly nicked from the pages of that best selling guide "How to Write a Supernatural Thriller Like the Da Vinci Code only better". No matter. Clichéd the characters might be, but there is a genuinely warm, humorous relationship between them and that makes you, the reader, care about them.
There are a few plot inconsistencies (the secret that is being pursued apparently takes years to master, yet one of the characters gets the basics sorted in just a few days!), but you'll be so wrapped up in the plot that you won't care too much. It's also entirely uninspired and unoriginal. I promise that I'm not really spoiling anything when I tell you that the two main characters are initially deeply suspicious of each other, then come to respect each other and then... oh work it out for yourself! Given the glut of this type of book currently available on the market, you may also be suffering from "secret sect-itis". If that's the case, then reading this book won't help your condition.
There's also something which irritated both myself and Mrs SWSt. It appears that Robert Finn is sponsored by IBook. Understandably, the characters make heavy use of computers in their quest. Except that it's never a "computer", always an IBook: "She got her IBook out and started typing"; "Her IBook sat on the table in front of her"; "She quickly connected to the internet using her IBook." Clearly Finn has negotiated some sort of deal with Apple whereby he gets £50 every time he mentions the product by name and it's a right little money spinner.*
If these things don't bother you, then The Adept is a thumping good read. Getting hold of it proved to be one of the serendipitous events that make reading so much fun. I expected nothing from it and came away having thoroughly enjoyed myself, which is one of real pleasures of reading.
Snow Books, 2004
© Copyright SWSt 2009
* May not be true.