Verdict: Character-driven, quietly powerful writing is the strength of AGENTS OF HOPE, a highly relevant tale of a dystopian America sunken further into bigotry.
After the United States falls from its status as superpower and multiple states secede, the survivors of the Pan21 plague struggle against the repressive police state of the financially struggling Republic of Texas. Falsely branded as continuing disease carriers, those who refuse to enter internment camps are deemed enemies of the state.
Although McDaniel has penned a futuristic dystopia, the sci-fi elements are light and the imagined Wild West future feels quite believable, thanks to its many parallels to current American political issues and McDaniel’s well-versed characterization. The alternating POV works, as all the characters bear a tangible realism and something important shared at stake. This POV is mostly third-person, but several chapters are told by a youthful Pan21 survivor who is continuously on the run. Like other rogue plague survivors, Destin refuses to follow government orders to turn himself in to a facility, with obvious but unstated analogy to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But the survivors bear a distinguishing physical feature—ashen skin, hair, and eyes—and that combined with their status as unlawful transients being hunted down by government agents evokes a comparison to the struggle of illegal aliens, though McDaniel never directly says so. They are also branded as traitors and terrorists, and scapegoated by the administration as a cause of the ills of working class average Joes struggling to make a buck in a ruined economy. The ways in which those in power utilize mass fears and pit the Republic’s working class against an easily vilified minority bears striking resemblance to recent conservatives targeting Muslims, undocumented immigrants, poor benefits recipients, and transgender people, adding more relevance to current issues.
Notwithstanding these implicit comparisons, the story stands on its own. McDaniel has a knack for writing characters that live and breathe across the page like intimate acquaintances. Most of the narration is done by survivors and rebels, who eke out an illicit, off-grid small community in Denver, but even the iniquitous administrators and agents never come across as cartoonish, but plausible as power-hungry, prejudiced, sycophantic, and unreasoning. A bit too much inner musing and explication weigh down the pacing, but McDaniel handles the brief action scenes well.
Character-driven, quietly powerful writing is the strength of this highly relevant tale of a dystopian America sunken further into bigotry.
~Christopher James Dubey for IndieReader