BRAVO reads like a Tom Clancy novel on speed. Pared down and raw, unlike many of Clancy’s padded efforts, BRAVO is the apex in Rucka’s espionage writing career; the second in the Jad Bell series, and surely not the last.
I wasn’t wholly satisfied with ALPHA, the first Bell novel, despite some exhilarating moments, and the pulse-pounding scenario of a hostage situation in a theme park. I criticised it for leaving too many dangling threads; I appreciated it was intentionally written this way, but felt it didn’t stand alone as a potent addition to an overcrowded genre. I admitted, however, that my opinion was likely to change after reading the second installment, and taking into account the overarching narrative (which doesn’t entirely wrap up in BRAVO, either).
Let me put it this way: after reading BRAVO, I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for ALPHA, and together, these two novels represent the finest espionage and thriller fiction I’ve read in years.
BRAVO follows on from the events of ALPHA – beware, newcomers; you’ll want to read this series in order. Bell and his crack team are tasked with bringing in the Uzbek – the man organizer behind the Wilsonville terrorist attack. Of course, this task isn’t as simple as it seems – the Uzbek’s employer, an enigmatic figure dubbed The Architect, has plotted another attack on American soil, this one more devastating than the last – and worse still, it appears shadowy figures within the American government are funding the plot.
On paper, this sounds very formulaic, and to some extent there is a smidgen of familiarity to the narrative. But Rucka makes some intriguing decisions with his prose that really pay off and pushes BRAVO firmly into the A-grade. Rucka implements a distinctive third person viewpoint in the present tense, and he shifts between characters and moments with a deftness only capable by a master of the form. The characters are layered; their self-doubt mingles with the arrogance required of elite soldiers and deep cover operatives. In ALPHA, Bell felt one-dimensional and somewhat plastic: in BRAVO, a story that has far more breadth, we see him for what he truly is, wrinkles and all, and a fine addition to espionage fiction’s highest echelons of characters.
So, read ALPHA, take a moment, then read BRAVO. But take your time. Savour the novels. Because then, like me, you’ll be on tenterhooks waiting for Rucka’s next.
My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for providing a review copy of BRAVO.