I was able to finish Greg Rucka's "Alpha" yesterday. It was a painful eight days, not because of reading the book, but rather all the time I had to NOT read the book. This is easily a book you can sit down to read a chapter or two and find yourself reading all afternoon and into the night. Rucka has always written terrific page turners and this book is no exception.
So, after putting down the book each day with regret that I was going to have to wait to pick it up again, I finished yesterday.
All the good things have been said already about the book, but I will say them again. The book is a classic character driven piece. Yes, there is a BIG ACTION plot. But what happens in the book is not dictated by the flow of the plot from point A to point B. Instead, the action is driven by the decisions of the characters, big and small. Rucka puts us in the perspective of several protagaonists and antagonists so that we see who they are, how they thing and we understand why they are doing what they are doing (and we see at what costs). The book is compelling because the characters are compelling, not because it is about the possibility of a dirty bomb going off at a major American amusement park.
The writing is very taught. The action builds and builds, and each chapter end demands that you turn to the subsequent chapter.
The hero is a flawed paragon. Jad Bell is someone you want on your side, but he is complicated, and may not be the best friend, husband or relative to have. He chose early on what was most important, and it is the duty to his service and his country, and when it comes to personal relationships, that can be pretty brutal.
Jad has the most complicated relationships with his teenage daughter, who happens to be deaf, and his estranged ex-wife. Both characters are fully realized and even though you are on Jad's "side" as he does his job, you can see why the choices he has made destroyed his marriage and make his daughter really mad at him (more than your usual teenage daughter). The relationships are earned and painful. They are not just there for "feel good" moments, like some sentimental relief. They are there because they throw into sharp contrasts the contradictions of our hero and legitimately up the ante on the events of the plot.
Finally, the rest of the supporting cast is amazing. This is one of Rucka's most cinematic books (like I said, BIG ACTION), but everytime you see a character and, based on your experience perhaps with action movies, you say, oh, I know who this character is, it turns out that you are wrong. There are no cardboard villans, spies, corporate jerks, military guys. There are characters who are believable and complex, even if they only have slight "screen time." You don't even think that you are dealing with some idiot from central casting who could not really do the role he or she is portraying and who only exists as some kind of straw person or foil. For a BIG ACTION book, this is a true study in characters. And the characters are smart and competent. Everyone makes mistakes and has imperfections, but no one is portrayed as an idiot just to make Jad look good. The twists and turns of the book are sharp and earned through the logical actions, sacrifices and gambles of three dimensional characters.
It is a pleasure to read.
I highly recommend it. It would be a great way to spend a summer day or two.
Justin Peniston also has some interesting things to say about Alpha and Rucka as a writer in general. I recommend checking out what he has to say (and he has two great web comics, so you could check those out as well!)