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Pandora’s Succession, the breakthrough novel by Russell Brooks, is an international action packed thriller with political and personal vendettas driving the plot. Using terrorist threats and the sale of biological technological warfare to modernize the Bond era mystique, Brooks still employs typical spy-genre glamour to the deliberately explosive narrative. Continual violent altercations pop up throughout the fast paced storyline, along with an array of plot and character twists, which intend to keep the readers at the edge of their seats. Beyond the basic storyline, Brooks dabbles in constructing a complexity of characters that falls short under critical analysis. He intends on employing an underlying depth of character through internal dialogue that focuses on back-stories for motivators of action, and then random commentaries on morality. This may be an attempt to appeal to social consciousness, perhaps for the appeasement of a bleeding heart. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amounts of details and descriptions are deemed unnecessary to the evolution of character and plot, which therefore inhibits an organized plot progression. The constantly changing narrative, revolving characters, and the continuous introductions of new elements to the storyline become a deterrent from the real meat and potatoes. The plot twists become predictable, the characters and progression over simplified, therefore losing any chance of believability.
The storyline mainly follows the struggles of our protagonist, Ridley Fox, a military special ops soldier turned CIA agent. Brooks invents Fox to be a killing machine with a conscience. Brought across the world to stop a bio-hazard terrorist threat from getting into the wrong hands (initial suspect: Al-Queda), Fox deals with blown covers by moles and scientific buxom beauties who unsettle his nerves (followed by the back story of his subconscious that brings up the past of a dead fiancé), lab blow-ups, secret meetings and combat with the “Janjaweed” (literally translating to “the devils”) followed by a minor Pandora viral outbreak where “it finds its way inside you either through your mouth, ears, or the nose and eats its way inside, ingesting tissue and organs in order to self-replicate… [to the effect that] Huge boils appear all over your body, seconds before they erupt”(46). Oh, and did I mention all of this intense action is in just the first couple chapters? Action bursts from the starting gate, and the twists get bigger with competing political villains, attempted brain washings from an ironically named drug “Clarity,” and hidden insurgents masked as allies.
If examined as a prospective film, the novel hits the mark of a fast paced action screenplay. It would create an easy casting for a Sylvester Stallone film -extreme violence with unbelievable combat scenes (like Fox single-handedly taking on a dozen armed guards in an underground lab, after being taken hostage, with the help of an ammunition cabinet conveniently placed next to his holding cell), an abundance of weaponry that makes great toys for heroism, and sexual frustration that causes the resentment of most female characters -all from the dialogue of a macho exterior. Action oozes from every facet of the plot and the constant motion of violent imagery by the continuous altercations is intended to keeps the story rolling. Much of the descriptions play out like a film:
He ran outside and grabbed their assault rifles, removed the ammunition clips, and brought them into the school with him where he tossed them into a classroom. Weaponry made these men fierce and they used this fear against defenseless women, children, and elderly villagers. But these guys were no match for Fox who was not only skilled with a gun, but also with knives and hand-to-hand combat. Their mistake was doing business
with Ares because now it put them on Fox’s hit list. (29)
If you can picture a muscle man in the desert with army fatigues fighting off the villains to save innocent villagers from a bio-test, then the shift of narrative focusing in on a teary eyed child that exclaims, “You came back. You did come to save us,”(32) as his mother holds him tighter from the immediate aftermath, you’ve summed up the whole premise of the story’s thematic developments.
The outlandish circumstances that are supposed to make us ask what’s next? somehow get reduced to a cliché. Plausibility is lost early on by the distracting back-story of lost love, the thematic back-back story of Cold War influences, and then later implied sexual tensions. By the time we get to the climax after being fed all this hyperbole, the mystery of the storyline becomes irrelevant. The plot is overwhelmed with stretches of unnecessary background information and descriptive lead-ups that are supposed to give us a more humanized character portrayal. The reader did not need to know of Fox’s high school football history as it means nothing to us later. Then the half page introductions of characters that usually don’t evolve beyond their preliminary description, either because Brooks intentionally abandons them by killing them off or by simply forgetting his original intentions of development, make it hard to follow who is important to the actual outcome of the story.
The premise, in itself, serves the action that is clearly at the heart of the narrative. Furthermore, Brooks tackles the emotional complexities of war and real life terrorist threats with internal dialogue. The omniscient narrator is able to extend reasoning behind the extremities of violence and action; all from capturing a multitude of perspectives. The action does its job to create progression, albeit simplistic to the reader. But herein lies the problem, the underlying themes demand a so what? and there isn’t one. Brooks has Fox tackle well over fifty obstacles (I stopped counting after 1/3 of the book), all of which are cool snap shots of an individualized scene, yet it brushes over too many issues to ever be complete. I don’t want to know only one or two details of a murdered fiancé; if it’s intended to be a valid component it has to go beyond the preliminary description:
His fiancée, Jessica, had died at the hands of his captors two years before. Unlike her, he knew they would torture him first. She was murdered just a few hours after he proposed to her. He promised her to give up his career in the Joint Task Force (JTF2)-Canada’s equivalence to America’s SEALs – to settle down with her. (3)
We are also given the occasional reminder that “Jessica [was] a way of tapping into my soft side” (8), and that it was his internal distraction. But these ideas were never really expanded on, which proved completely irrelevant to the maturation of the novel. In actuality, that whole motivating factor could have been eliminated and it would not have made the story any worse for the wear.
Ultimately, Brooks’ indecision of what type of story Pandora’s Succession should be restricts the believability and the conclusive purpose of the piece. If this is adapted for future screening options, with the intent of a simplified action flick, Pandora’s Succession will be a plausible success without the craving of intellectual stimulation. Yet somehow I feel like this avenue would be a cop-out. As mentioned before the meat and potatoes are there; it is the overwhelming amount of new detail and chest thumping action that obstructs the appreciation of the storyline. The intent to explore a social consciousness is ingenious to the development of the modern thriller; if Brooks expands on the internal psychological motivators in his suggested sequel with an elevated analysis of character and only a few twists, he’ll mature into a new arena of appreciation, instead of satisfying one target audience. His back stories are fascinating and his imagination vibrant, which implies thoughtful perspectives. The future will bring experience to this first time novelist, hopefully honing his imagined complexities to surpass the “Bond-esque” standards of the mystery genre.
Alexandria Binanti will eventually be a graduate from UW–Parkside with a degree in English and History and an interest in international studies. She fancies herself a writer (after she puts her daughter to bed) who analyzes her analysis. She also likes long walks on the beach.