After the Great Catastrophe killed all humans below a certain level of psychic ability, peace and order were apparently restored by the Unity Energy Agency and its leaders, who promise citizens a bright future and an end to death – and to the “unattached” ghosts whose spirits persist after death. Dr. Raile Alton is a major contributor to the UEA’s hopes – but when an unattached begins apparently murdering live humans, and a resistance movement begins striking blows against UEA leadership, he finds he has some difficult choices to make…
FOURTH TRAIT is a fascinating post-apocalyptic adventure novel. From political discussions behind closed doors to armed revolutionary action, there is not a dull moment in this book. Author Benjamin A. Bryan’s main gift here is character design. There are enough characters here, from enough different factions, that it should be difficult to keep them all straight. However, they are so well-drawn, with vivid personalities, substantial motivation, solid history, and intelligent perspectives, that they seem to come to life on the page. The book’s point of view regularly switches from person to person, so that we get to know each viewpoint character intimately and see the plot through their eyes. Even with this birds’-eye view of internal motivations, however, there still manage to be enough crosses and double-crosses to keep the plot beautifully complicated and interestingly tangled. Added to this are serious philosophical questions about the value of eternal life and the fear of death, about what happens to the spirit after death, and about freedom, security, order, and the proper balance of a human government. Villains are believable and intelligent–they have their own motivations, and naturally believe themselves to be acting in perfectly justifiable fashion to produce a better and more humane world–the darker sides of their characters are only revealed bit by bit as the story goes on.
The psychic, almost “magical” aspects of FOURTH TRAIT are, if not thoroughly explained, at least given enough rational justification for the reader to suspend disbelief, and there are enough rules about, limits on, and defenses against certain characters’ psychic powers to keep them from becoming a deus ex machina, while keeping them useful when needed for plot purposes. This is a long book for a reason, and it’s one that takes more than a quick evening’s read to sort out. At times, it feels like the reader needs a scorecard to keep track of who’s on which side and what plans are being made, and thwarted, and readjusted by whom–especially given the complications involved with telepathy and psychic powers. But sorting out the tangle is half, or more than half, of the fun. The book ends on something of a cliffhanger, so hopefully there will be a sequel–all of this careful plotting and planning deserves a final resolution.
FOURTH TRAIT is a vigorous, engaging, and interestingly complex science fiction novel, with lively characters and a thoughtful, well-designed plot.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader