The Informationist by Taylor Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Informationist has one of the most daring and distinctive heroines I've personally read about. Vanessa Michael Monroe is practically a force of nature. Her personality is hard to pin down, even if you know her very well, which few people do. And she makes a very bad enemy. While some characters might go to Africa to run away from their past or to define a new life for themselves, Monroe is the opposite. She was born in Africa and raised there. Although she is Caucasian American descent, Africa flows in her veins and helped to make her who she was, and not all in good ways.
Monroe doesn't let fear define her, instead she walks in defiance of it. Being afraid is not her problem. It's the rage and anger she keeps under lock and key. She struggles against demons from her past that simmer in her blood and make her heart beat fast with the tribal beat of war. Control is a way of life when she knows just what she's capable of. Yet, she is unafraid to go into dangerous places when others would shirk such a responsibility. When Emily Burbank's adoptive father contacts her to find out what happened to his daughter in Africa four years ago, she is going to have to go back to the place she was born and face her ugly past.
I love to read about heroines who are tough and resourceful. Who can kick butt just like the action heroes. Monroe is definitely one of those kinds of heroines. I like that she is very adaptable and clever about thinking through situations. While she has other weapons, she uses the one between her ears very well. Her personality is really abrasive and she's not what I would consider a typical "likable" heroine. And yet, there is something about her that resonates with me. I like that she is such a survivor. I mean, who could go through what she did and still be 100% sane and free of scars? She actually is quite sane, although I think deep down, she fears what lurks in the abyss she keeps locked away inside. She's sort of the opposite of Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness. She's been there and she walked away. It holds no appeal for her.
I liked the complex relationship that Monroe has with Francisco. I didn't expect it, yet when it happened, I thought, "Of course." I knew that Monroe would have to come full circle and get closure about Africa in order to heal. That process was ugly and painful, but necessary. I also liked her relationship with Miles. Each encounter helped to shape her in different ways, as relationship with others should do.
While I didn't like everything about the narrative, I did like how the author builds tension and unfolds the story, and keeps me guessing what's going to happen next. While one could easily draw conclusions about what happened in Equatorial Guinea, it's different from what I thought, and complicated. I think this is a book that lends itself well to audio, because some of the written facts about Emily's disappearance and the various places she went/the stonewalling she encounters, and Monroe's search in those places might be a bit dry on paper. I also think that some of the action scenes could have been more suspenseful and intensely written. There was a sense of risk, but it was a bit muted at times. As far as the narrator, I liked her voice a lot. She captures who Michael aka Monroe very well.
This is one of those books that doesn't build up one's faith in humanity. Corruption runs so deep and twisted in this world, and some places are built on this foundation. And while some of us who are lucky to live in a more lawful country, those same individuals go to other places in the world and make things worse in their conquest for power and money because they can get away with that in some places in the world, where life is cheap. Like some of my other thriller/suspense/action hero favorites, Monroe is there to teach them a lesson, but in her case, that lesson is a costly one for her as well.
I couldn't imagine living the life that Vanessa Michael Monroe has lived. One of the things I love about fiction is that I can go on a journey with a distinctive heroine like Monroe and see life through her lenses. I can feel her pain and her anger and experience the victories and defeats she has, and it helps me to understand that life is a complicated thing, but we can make it through things we never imagined possible.
This book might not work for everyone, but I found it interesting and thought-provoking. It felt unique and Monroe is an unforgettable heroine. She's kind of lawless in some ways, but deep down, she has a code that she won't stray from. She's a complicated women. Readers who enjoy this kind of heroine or a reader looking for something different might enjoy The Informationist.
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