In a city where cybernetically enhanced or otherwise artificially modulated villains wreak havoc multiple times a day, there is one man who can stop them: Agent Tobin Phoenix. With a new partner at his side, he fights day and night to get dangerous would-be murderers off the streets—and keep his husband, Victor, safe. When Agent Phoenix subdues Baxter Combes, it’s business as usual. But Combes has a special vendetta against Phoenix. Being behind bars of Carbine City’s special prison for super criminals is no real challenge. Combes bides his time and manages his escape and soon, he is able to exact revenge on Agent Phoenix by stealing Victor’s very life essence.
Without his husband waiting at home for him, all the fight leaves Agent Phoenix. Without Victor, there is no point. Tobin throws himself into round-the-clock nursing for his husband. It isn’t until a legendary agent comes to visit that Tobin realizes the only way to get his husband back is to face Combes—once and for all.
This book took some 180 pages to convey one very simple thing: Agent Phoenix is the deus ex machina in every scene. Phoenix is the unrelenting hero of the book to the extent that it was an absolute chore having to read about each villain he and his partner fight. And there are a lot. I would estimate three a day. Which makes me wonder what all the other agents at The Agency are doing, because it’s clear there is an entire infrastructure dedicated to hiring, training, equipping, and maintaining these agents. For some readers, I suppose this counts as a lot of action, but personally, I found it overkill…especially the added scenes where Phoenix (and once, his partner) go through training simulations that are like nothing so much as a thinly veiled (as in veiled with saran wrap) reference to the Danger Room in the X-men franchise. There are already pages upon pages of show downs between real bad guys. I wasn’t interested in reading pages upon pages of Agents doing the same thing in a simulator.
Tobin’s relationship with his husband is…there? It’s clear Phoenix is married, but the only purpose it seems to serve is to provide Combes with a target. Despite how often Tobin and Victor are shown together, it feels extraordinarily perfunctory and invariably ends with Tobin running off to save the world again. The most meaningful conversation they have with each other is an extended argument over whether they should vacation somewhere calm like Victor wants or someplace guaranteed to have more Carbine City-type bad guys floating around like Tobin wants. Overall, the treatment of their marriage felt more like an aside. Victor could have been anyone; it simply did not matter. And the way Tobin goes to pieces when Victor’s life essence gets stolen (he’s not dead, he’s more like in a coma and he cannot awaken unless his essence gets restored) felt like a double whammy of crap. First, because there was zero emotional investment on my part in Tobin/Victor as a couple. Second, because there was supposed to be huge investment in Tobin/work and Tobin just shuts the explicative down because all of a sudden, he seems to care about the man sharing his house.
So, yes. I took great umbrage with this “marriage” the main character is supposed to have. I also was exceedingly bored by the continual displays of “awesome” in which the main character engages. So the characters were disappointing.
As far as story crafting goes, I think the actual world being built was hurt more than helped by the constant parade of new villains. At best, I very much understood there are lots of technologies available to bad guys (and lots of pointless descriptions of technologies available to civilians, too). I think the presence of technology was supposed to indicate the difference between which bad guys were the jurisdiction of The Agency and which were the jurisdiction of the regular old police department, but this was not made sufficiently clear. Also an annoying plot hole is why civilians have gardens that bloom at the push of a button and mailboxes that blink with a green light when they have mail, and why bad guys have machines that can suck the life essence out of unsuspecting decorative husbands, but why Agent Phoenix gets nothing more than a gun to fight crime. Again, my biggest takeaway is that there is a lot of technology, but none of it really builds into anything. Adding insult to injury is that although we know the soul sucker technology will suck OUT a soul, there is nothing to indicate if/how it can RESTORE a stole. The literal deus ex machina scene in the book is conspicuously absent.
The plot plods along and the official blurb primes the reader for Victor’s eventual attack. But finding out the reason why Combes goes for Victor instead of Tobin was a bit of surprise. Unfortunately, I thought this aspect of the plot suffered the same lack of development as everything else. The reader learns there is a plausible reason for Combes to choose Victor over Tobin, but it never gets explicitly spelled out for the sake of causing anyone angst on page. Nor does it seem to have any effect on the big fight scene between Tobin and Combes toward the end of the book. The end result is that this big reveal functions a lot like a nothing burger.
Personally, I was bored by this book. To be honest, I read two other books and reread a third one between starting and finishing Agent Phoenix. I fervently disliked how the main character was demonstrably dismissive of his spouse up until his spouse fell victim to a bad guy. I thought it was poor character/plot development to have Phoenix be 100% dedicated to his job when Victor is safe, then 100% dedicated to being at Victor’s bedside after Victor’s soul gets snatched (NB: the only way Phoenix could have helped his husband was to do the fucking job he used to ignore Victor to do!). I suppose if you like action, weird tech, things blowing up, and main characters that are god-like without actually having super powers, you may like this book. If you want some kind of character development or plot development, I think this book misses the mark.