What is this? Another fantastic novel from Genevieve Valentine? Quelle surprise. Not.
Author: Genevieve Valentine
Genre: Political Thriller
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication Date: March 10 2015
Hardcover: 307 Pages
An acerbic thriller from a Nebula award finalist, set against the backdrop of a near-future world of celebrity ambassadors and assassins who manipulate the media to the point where the only truth seekers left are the paparazzi.
When Suyana, Face of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, secretly meets Ethan of the United States for a date that can solidify a relationship for the struggling UARC, the last thing she expects is an assassination attempt. Daniel, a teen runaway-turned-paparazzi out for his big break, witnesses the first shot hit Suyana, and before he can think about it, he jumps into the fray, telling himself it’s not altruism, it’s the scoop. Just like that, Suyana and Daniel are now in the game of Faces. And if they lose, they’ll die.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did we get this book: ARCs from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
Why did we read this book: Well, Ana is a major Genevieve Valentine fan having read and loved both The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (a top 10 of 2014) and Dream Houses. Plus, this sounded super great and with it being published by Saga Press, the new snazzy S&S imprint, we HAD to read it.
In Genevieve Valentine’s near-future political thriller Persona, celebrity ambassadors are the public Faces of each nation (or confederation) parroting political decisions that are made behind closed doors by more important people. Diplomacy is only a matter of life of death when/if the Faces don’t conform.
Enter Suyana Sapaki, the Face of the struggling United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, whose precarious position as its Face is about to suffer another hit: when she is getting ready to sign a contract to enter a relationship with the Face of the United States and secure her place in politics (for now), she gets shot.
Daniel Park is a budding paparazzi, a runaway from Korea who is hoping to catch a break by shadowing Suyana. He is a witness to her shooting and on the spur of the moment, helps Suyana get to safety. Both of them have secrets they are keeping from each other.
With a narrative that alternates viewpoints between Daniel and Suyana, Persona’s main drive follows the two characters as Suyana desperately tries to stay alive just long enough to find out who is behind the hit (and why) in what is new fast-paced thrillerific offering by chameleon author Genevieve Valentine. “Chameleon” because every single story I’ve read from this author has been completely unlike one another in a showcase of talent I rarely see. However, one aspect that runs through all of her stories is the thoughtfulness that underscores her plotlines.
In Persona, underneath all the thrill and fast pace of an action novel runs a thought-provoking look at questions of power – where it is centred, who holds it and in what way – of legitimacy and agency in a post-colonial, what-if futuristic context that also deals with potential ecological catastrophes, the issue of terrorism versus activism as well as the cult of celebrity taken to the extreme.
Add to that the fact that most characters in this book are people of colour coming from the outskirts of central power (held by the usual US, UK, Norway to name a few) and we have what I would call a too fabulous for words novel. Except for the fact that I do have words and most of them relate to how much I loved Suyana and every other female character in this book. Surprising no one who is familiar with Genevieve Valentine’s work, there is a lot of depth and care in creating the protagonist: Suyana has interesting motivations, ulterior motives and those are relayed to the reader in the manner which she reacts to and interacts with the world and the people around her.
A political world that built this “persona” she shows in public (and most of the time, also in private) and expects her to conform to and perform the tasks given to her – which she has done to some extent without critical thought. However, even despite those external forces and the power differential between her and those who pull the strings, Suyana is still a character with agency and whose actions – regardless of how small or big – drive the plot and her life. The small details are fantastic: her past in Peru, dealing with poverty and her Quechuan heritage which is all but stripped in her formative years by someone who is effectively a father figure to her but whom she can’t really trust. That fraught relationship between the Faces and their handlers are fantastic and just as good as the tentative relationships between Suyana and other (female) Faces. No one is what they seem, everybody hides their true selves and finding out who is ally or foe is part of what made this novel so engaging and yes, exciting.
I even had time to ship Suyana with…just about everybody else.
Needless to say, I loved this and can’t wait to read more from Genevieve Valentine.
This is, believe it or not, my first read from Genevieve Valentine. I plan on rectifying this hole in my reading very soon because Persona is fucking awesome.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten into when I started Persona. I was expecting a sci-fi angled political drama – something slow and internalized and conceptual.
I was wrong.
Persona is snappy and tactile, heavy on both the characters and the action. It’s a compulsively readable near-future United Nations and tabloid-riffing dystopia, and an eco-terrorism-oriented mystery thriller to boot. OH BOY, is it a thriller. There’s loads of action (the book basically begins with an assassination attempt and narrow escape, with our main characters on the run for the next 300 or so pages) – but more importantly, there’s tons of heart and smart questions behind the action. Persona, as a thriller, works because the world is not only immediately and wholly realized; it works because readers are immediately that damn invested in the novel’s lead characters, Suyana and Daniel. Especially Suyana. (I love Suyana.)
Persona examines three things to great effect (Ana hits on this in her part of this review, and with her I wholeheartedly agree):
- Established Power Structures and Hierarchies – from both the macro level of rich nations (the overall system of the “International Assembly” or AI and its cult of celebrity “Faces” and “Handlers”) and the micro level of key power players (from eco-terrorist group Chordata, to certain key corporations and shadow figures).
- How Individuals from the Fringes Challenge those Hierarchies – particularly where Suyana is involved with her conscious, mole-like efforts; to where Daniel is involved, inadvertently and reactionary in his decisions. (On that note, what’s so compelling about the political eco-thriller aspect of this book, at least from my perspective, is it’s point of view – Suyana is an Peruvian and Quechua, decidedly removed from the power bastion of the United States or Scandinavia or any other number of wealthy power hubs. I’ve only read thrillers from the perspective of Great Privileged Usually White Heroes, and having Suyana’s perspective is a rare, powerful treat. I loved this very much.)
- How Individuals from both sides of Power React to Those Challenges/Each Other – because this is the heart of the conflict of the book. How does Suyana weigh the moves and countermoves against her? Who can she trust? What moves can she make to advance her own agenda? What even is her agenda? What is a true threat, and what is a red herring?
These are hefty questions and themes that could become unwieldy and didactic in a less-skilled author’s hands, but in Persona, the edge-of-your-seat action is balanced with these careful, larger, word-framing questions. The result is a book both immensely readable and exciting, as well as fodder for deeper thought (and, ultimately, examination of our own world and societies).
And, like Ana says, the characters are really what propel Persona, and, having now read two Saga Press novels (see City of Savages by Lee Kelly), I can see this is a commonality to the publishing program: strong, fast-paced, plot and action-heavy speculative fiction reinforced by characters with complex motivations, relationships, and defining characteristics.
Such is Persona. Suyana is, for lack of a better word, COMPLEX. She’s intense and driven, very much in her own head and analyzing every single detail of the world around her to make her own deductions and decisions. She can read worlds in the twitch of someone’s lips or the silence that precedes an answer. She is guarded – for good reason – and oh-so smart… but she’s also incredibly alone. While it may seem unlikely that she would pair with Daniel, a twenty-two year old runaway turned aspiring paparazzo/journalist (in a world where news and photography is regulated with violence), her physical vulnerability (being shot twice) and psychological isolation (she’s never told anyone her deep dark secret) make the unlikely team make sense.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. I think it’s absolutely excellent, unexpected, thought-provoking, and fun.
And I think you’ll love it, too. Give it, and Genevieve Valentine, a try. You won’t regret it.
Ana: 8 – Excellent leaning toward 9
Thea: 8 – Ditto
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