Title: Hidden Demon
Author: Fish Phillips
Genre: Science Fiction / Political Thriller
A secret service operation gone wrong leaves Dee Johnson, a United States Counter Assault Agent, in a vulnerable position. This leads her to agree to a mission fraught with strange attacks, and one where enemies could be hiding in every corner. Dee and her partner Ko will have to race against time to separate fact from fiction and friend from foe, ultimately risking their lives to complete a mission where nothing is as it seems, and everything seems to be at stake.
Hidden Demon combines elements of high-tech science fiction and the political thriller genre. This combination gives an audience a unique reading experience, further enhanced by the immersive world-building. From the bright lights of Tokyo to small-town Virginia, the setting comes alive under the author’s expert touch. There was enough signposting to remind us all that this story is taking place decades away from our own reality, while not being too heavy-handed on artificial intelligence and robots to make the time setting into some clichéd caricature of the future.
The writing itself was fast-paced and exciting. The action-packed opening set the tone for the rest of the book while also serving as the fulcrum around which all subsequent events turned. There was a slight lag toward the middle that was less because of actual pacing issues and more because the overall direction and theme was blurred due to the number of plot devices being introduced and the simultaneous unravelling of so many story threads.
A less-is-more approach would have framed the central arc of the book in a much better light. The heart and soul of this book rested very much on the shoulders of its main character. Dee Johnson is the kind of strong female character that readers would be able to connect with and root for. All her prickly defensive layers only made her more compelling, and her constant battle to prove herself worthy of her position in the secret service will resonate with those of us who are still fighting the battle against gender bias and inequality.
Readers will also appreciate the diversity and representation in this book. Dee is a black woman whose sexual orientation is ambiguous for most of the book and the rest of the supporting cast is just as diverse. The relationships Dee developed with them were also essential to her character development. Her relationship with her partner Ko, for example, was a true delight to read and was also the key to unlocking her character. Readers will immediately sense the long-standing history between the two and the buried tension that adds spice and crackle to their daily interactions.
In contrast, Dee’s relationship with Penny should have been given more room to grow and more space to breathe. Penny is the second most-complex character next to Dee, and her character arc, while harrowing and tragic, maintained the impression that there was more to her than meets the eye. Her story took a slight backseat to the techno elements and the underhanded political machinations. Fortunately, the author was skilled enough to tie all the elements, plot devices, and character relationships together into a cohesive and wonderfully twisty ending.
Hidden Demon is an imaginative and creative book and a welcome addition to any science-fiction lover’s bookshelf. More than that, it is also a commentary on equality, tolerance, and other issues that are relevant and current to the society we live in. Fish Phillips may have started this book with the aim of giving readers a rousing good time, and he has largely succeeded in that regard. Ultimately, though, the true legacy this book leaves behind is the very human story of survival and the hope that propels people to stand up every time they fall.
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