Review by Simon Bewick
It’s one thing to come up with a compelling character and series, it’s another to keep it going in. There’s the risk that every book has to be ‘bigger’. Bigger danger, bigger risk, bigger challenge…and when your protagonist is a seemingly unstoppable force? That can make it difficult to maintain a sense of jeopardy…
Evan Smoak is, without doubt, a compelling character.
Taken from a foster home as a boy, Smoak was trained to be part of a top-secret government programme. Years later, Smoak has left and slipped into a reclusive life – emerging only to help those who need him. Ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary danger. Oh, and occasionally, to exact justice on those who think they, and their nefarious deeds, are above accountability.
Storywise, the question is – once you’ve taken down the most powerful man in the world, where do you go next? Hurwitz answered that in the last instalment by an early story injury on Smoak that debilitated his skills.
The sixth in the Orphan X series, Prodigal Son takes a different path – this time, as they say, it’s personal.
Evan has retired: given up his one-man A-Team underdog help on threat of termination by those in power. But retirement is put on hold when someone calls him claiming to be his mother. Someone who needs him to put his extraordinary skills back to work one more time.
Prodigal Son reintroduces characters Hurwitz has introduced and developed over the previous five novels. Joey, the teenage girl, expert hacker and Orphan programme drop out Smoak has, reluctantly, taken under his wing. Mia, his neighbour and possible love interest, and her young son Peter. To talk of the cameos from other series characters would be spoilers – suffice to say they’ll please longtime readers.
Of course, there is an antagonist. Several, in fact…a brother and sister team capable of deploying the most sadistic of methods to find out what they need. A shadowy figure known only as ‘the doctor’. There’s also a wide range of ‘minor obstacles. Like most action series, there are multiple set pieces to demonstrate just how ruthlessly efficient the central character is. So we get ‘gym muscled’ pseudo tough guys, ex-army mercenaries and rich douche bags, all begging (and receiving) a beat down along the way.
The story is more ‘tech heavy’ than previous instalments. These days the line between science fiction and science fact is thinner than ever. There are story elements that, if the book had come out ten years ago would be Michael Crichtonesque. Today? I’d prefer not to know exactly how close to truth it is. What is clear, is the level of hacker detail Hurwitz goes into. There’s a lot of data detail in here but it doesn’t slow the novel down. You don’t need to understand it – just go along with it and assume yes, that could be done.
The most interesting parts of the book for me were the relationship and character-building elements. The action is most definitely fast, furious, and frequent. There are minor touches of telepathy I wasn’t sure were needed and the ‘menace’ of some of the villains never felt a match for the protagonist, but Hurwitz knows well enough how to elevate a threat – to introduce something into the story that not even the world’s best assassin can fight back against.
In fact, threat-wise Smoak encounters more in this book than he ever has before. Mental and Physical. To say more about what that means would be to give away too many spoilers.
All in all, Prodigal Son is a welcome addition to one of the most dependable action series around today and has a Saturday morning serial ending that suggests things could get even more interesting in the next instalment.