Verdict: Intricate and well-written, with a page-turning ending, this great tech-crime novel surpasses its predecessor in ambition and delivery.
Brody and Jenny are back!
Still recovering from the dramatic events of the last book, and the subsequent loss of Leroy as a friend, Brody is seeking purpose and professional legitimacy. His growth from white hat pen-test hacker to his application for the Vorovsky Mir take-down team at GCHQ is no doubt helped by his relationship with Jenny, who requires honesty (and legal compliance) from him in order to continue their romance – despite the complications this job would bring geographically. But Brody receives another offer which sorely tempts his secretive side, and it might be too early to put his online persona Fingal to rest.
Jenny herself is facing trouble at work. Her boss is relentlessly penalising her for how the last case went; punishing her for making the final arrest and, in his view, making him look like a fool. She too is entertaining a career change, one that might place her relationship with Brody in jeopardy, but then something happens that throws both our favourite hacker and kick-arse policewoman back together, whether they want to be co-workers or not.
This new adventure from Ian Sutherland is more ambitious than Invasion of Privacy, but just as intricately planned and excellently executed. Both Brody and Jenny are welcoming and solid, giving you the feeling that you’re returning to the lives of some very interesting, very bizarre old friends instead of book characters. The humour and life injected into the novel is palpable, and emotions are quickly attached to even the second and third tier of the cast.
I mentioned in my last review that Sutherland spent time explaining the technical aspects of hacking very thoroughly – perhaps a little too thoroughly for me personally – but in Serpents, he really strikes the right balance between ‘need-to-know’ and ‘surplus’. At no point did the narrative drag, despite the length of the novel: it was always relevant, always interesting, and you felt the imperative need to pay attention to every sentence in case you missed something vitally important.
The introduction of third-party POVs was an interesting change. In Invasion, it ranged between Brody, Jenny and the unidentified killer… the last of which chilled me to the bone and had me screaming at the pages of the novel. In Serpents, the approach is slightly different. It ranges from Brody, Jenny, the killer – who gives us important clues as to his identity – and a fourth character, who plays a part in the ending. If I’m honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about this fourth character’s inclusion. In some ways, the choices the character made and the subsequent plot path made things rather convenient, but the character as a whole was well-rounded and a welcome addition to the fold.
So let’s talk about this ending.
If anyone was following my Twitter as the time of reading the last pages of Serpents, it might have seemed like I was having some kind of fit. The last section of the book filled me with such intense emotions: rage, panic, fear, and rage again because [enter incoherent babbling about a certain character here], that I’m afraid the rest of the thoroughly enjoyable book paled in comparison. The visual atmosphere of the last moments of Taking Up Serpents was so vivid that I was squirming around in my seat and couldn’t stop reading until I’d found out the conclusion of the two-pronged disaster that was about to happen.
Such intensity would not have been possible without the strong foundation Sutherland had built with his characters and plot, however, which leads me back to my final thoughts. Taking Up Serpents is a sound, wonderfully written thriller with beautifully crafted characters and a solid, twisting plot. The voice is fresh and this latest installment is bigger in scope and ambition that either of the stories that came before it.
Basically, Sutherland knocked it out of the park, and I urge you all to read it as soon as possible.