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Good Guys
by Steven Brust
Tor, $25.99, 316 pages
Published: March 2018

Good guys do the right thing for the right reasons and get good outcomes, right? But… don’t people doing wrong things for the wrong reasons resulting in terrible outcomes also think of themselves as, well, good guys? Of course they do.

A very small percentage of humanity are genetically predisposed to sensitivity to magical energies and can learn to manipulate them in various ways. In the wake of genocidal persecution, a small group of survivors split into two organizations. One group is determined to safeguard its members by any means necessary. As they see it, the most effective means are to amass wealth, power, and influence worldwide. A necessary part of achieving and maintaining all these good things is to recruit and train suitably talented youngsters. So this organization aggressively, systematically does recruit, and train, and employ, and reward suitably talented individuals.

The smaller, splinter organization is more concerned with maintaining secrecy than leveraging, so when magic wielders get careless, a little too obvious when they jigger the laws of nature, a little too forgetful of what “low profile” means, field agents are sent to remind them.

Ever hear the expression, “Tread on a worm, it turns”? Well, one Worm got sick and tired of being ground down by well-heeled, magic-wielding leveragers and has initiated a series of vendetta assassinations, each more spectacular than the last.

Now “spectacular” is one of those adjectives that is the polar opposite of “low profile”. Three field agents, Donovan Longfellow, Marcie Sullivan, and Susan Kouris, are assigned to investigate the suspicious “accidents”. The investigation quickly becomes dangerous, and it becomes apparent that there may be a double-agent in the agency.

The rising waters of conflict take on the dimensions of a tsunami. Every character has realistic motivations, has grounds for justifying his or her actions as right, no matter what other characters think or say to the contrary. Since the story is narrated variously by several characters, you get their unadulterated viewpoints.

Not that characterizing any Steven Brust by a single word is a good idea, but if one were so determined, “ambiguous” might be the word that comes to mind for Good Guys. The ambiguity is so thick, it displaces even the irony.

The characters are so conflicted, it is hardly fair to call any of them protagonists; they’re ALL antagonists. Who you like best or most readily grok depends on your personality and experiences, but being sympatico does not rescue any of them from the moral Hall of Mirrors they maneuver through, taking pot shots at each other and shattering reflections. (And if you haven’t seen Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, know that that film is the One, True, Original Hall of Mirrors shootout.)

Strongly recommended, and if you want more thought-provoking material, check out Brust’s website and blog. ~~ Chris Wozney

For other titles by Steven Brust click here

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