Welcome to my spot on the blog tour for The Faith Machine! As a newbie to blogging, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Storytellers on Tour for letting me get involved, as well as furnishing me with an electronic copy of the book in return for this fair and unbiased review.
Project Dead Blind, a team of operatives with unique abilities, are in trouble. Their last mission, to capture a Faith Machine (a Cold War-era device capable of weaponizing faith) was a bust, and in its wake they’re forced to make their way across the US for the promised sanctuary of a safehouse. All the while, shadowy agents are tracking them, with their every move watched by the mysterious Collective. The agents of Project Dead Blind will be forced to rely on more than just their formidable abilities as they make their journey – they’ll have to rely on each other too. But is this spirit of cooperation more than the team can bear?
Headed by psychologist Dr Ken Park, the team is made up of agents with a wildly varying set of skills, known as “Cards.” Each agent is given their own playing card designation, with the number of the card denoting their power level – the higher the number, the more powerful their ability is perceived to be. We learn of these designations and codenames in small dossier like sections between the early chapters, usually just before Park recruits an agent for their mission. These serve as great introductions to the characters, and provide a great deal of information about them in a way that doesn’t feel forced at all – an extremely shrewd move on Milazzo’s part, that also ensures the pace rarely dips. Referring to people by playing card designations also carries an inherent level of cool.
The agents themselves aren’t just different in terms of their capabilities either, they’re also all distinct in their personalities, yet – crucially – believable and likeable characters. So likeable, in fact, that even now, days after I’ve finished reading, I struggle to pick a favourite. There’s the cocky Isaac Deal, with his ability to mirror the skills and expertise of those nearby. There’s the near-terminally unlucky Pollyanna, with her ability to bank her bad luck and unleash it at crucial moments. There’s also the newest recruit, Gabby, a recovering addict with the ability to paralyse with her voice. The other members of the team have similarly interesting and entertaining abilities, and the various applications of them make for some of the biggest highlights in the novel. Despite not having any special abilities himself, I’m tempted to declare their handler Park my favourite, as his character profile of being excellent at his job but perhaps a bit too soft made me warm to him instantly. His attempts to wrangle the team are somewhat akin to herding cats at times too, with their assorted mental health issues and traumas making them a challenge to get a handle on as their supervisor. Not to mention their amusingly abrasive personalities. All of them get their time to shine too, with the viewpoint changing between them from chapter to chapter.
Another big tick in The Faith Machine’s favour is the action. There’s a real range of it, from crunchy one-on-one fights, to stealthy takedowns, to more explosive demonstrations of Project Dead Blind’s abilities. I was pleasantly surprised (in a non-psychopathic way) by just how violent and visceral some scenes were in fact. Milazzo doesn’t shy away from occasional bouts of graphic violence, and there’s plenty of swearing and sex references too. There are even some torture scenes. It’s hardly American Psycho, but there are adult themes aplenty to be aware of. This violence does serve a purpose though, showing the real consequences of the character’s actions, as well as the potency of their abilities. All this action means the plot tears along at a fairly breakneck pace, with shadowy plots galore and wheels within wheels. The conspiracy side of the narrative is very compelling, although this does lead me on to pretty much the only complaint I had – that the resolution happens perhaps a little too quickly. I would have liked to have seen more made of the final big conflict, but this in itself might be more of a compliment than a complaint. After all, you should always leave the audience wanting more, right? And I definitely want more of this. I see from Tone Milazzo’s website that he has outlines for two other novels, and I am optimistic that we’ll get to read more stories set in the ESPionage universe. This supercharged spy thriller entertains from the first page, with loveable characters, crackling dialogue and cinematic action set pieces. That’s a full house, in my book.*
*Oh come on, you didn’t think I’d make it all the way through the review without making a card game pun did you?
Currently reading: Red Noise, John P. Murphy
Currently listening: Splid, Kvelertak