I couldn’t be more excited to finally be sharing my review of “Bai Tide,” by my good blog-friend and author extraordinaire Erika Mitchell. Erika and I have been in correspondence since she published her first book, PWNED, and I am always on tenterhooks waiting for her next release.
Erika writes thrillers for those of us that wouldn’t necessarily characterize ourselves as thriller-readers. If I was stranded at an airport and forced to choose between the latest sugary YA Vampwolf Saga or Steve Berry, you can guess which way I’d go.
All that was definitely turned on its ear when I started reading Erika’s work. She takes characters from unlikely circumstances (A professional StarCraft player and an accountant among them) and allows them to grow into the protagonists that she needs. Bai Hsu is her first “typical secret agent,” but even his assignment in the beginning of the novel is far from mundane.
We pick up shortly after “Blood Money,” with Bai on assignment at a private Girls’ School for the daughters of high profile political figures in California. Erika makes good use of the humor of the situation off the bat, with Bai making multiple remarks about his undercover work mixed with the more mundane aspects of his cover as a gym teacher.
“As an undercover counterintelligence operative, however, it was a matter of no little concern that I hadn’t caught and questioned the man who’d blown up a car to get away clean. I’d need to phone in to headquarters about this one and do a little digging, to say nothing of the inevitably unpleasant conversation I was going to have to have with [the headmistress] about why I’d failed.
All that and a volleyball tournament next Friday. It was shaping up to be a busy week.” (pg 4)
The action in this book doesn’t take long to kick off- from the first page you’re thrown in and scrambling along with Bai as he attempts to find out who on Earth would break into the school’s Welcome Formal and what their motives are. The plot is far from crystalline, though. There are some clever side plots involving other teachers and students at the school thrown in for interest. There’s even a thorny bit of romance for those of us who tend to lean more toward books with more kissing than butt-kicking in them.
The story is populated with a number of convincing characters, with distinct mannerisms and backstories. A particular highlight to me was Agnes, the headmistress of the school, who I immediately pictured as an “M” from James Bond (Most recently played by Dame Judi Dench).
The similarities to Bond don’t just end there though- Erika creates a twisty villain on par with some of the Bond villains, were there are far more dangerous motives lying beneath a pleasant façade. I wanted to keep reading, but at the same time almost wanted to look away for fear of what would happen when the end fireworks began.
For fear of giving away too much of the plot, I won’t say more, but definitely need to give props to the writing itself. I’m always in awe of just how much research goes into books, and it makes it that much more impressive when you’re in contact with the author and can picture her poring over martial arts styles and international airport terminal layouts. The challenge of getting a character from plot point a to plot point b is confusing enough without having to know the architecture of Beijing international and the perks of particular firearms. I think it’s fabulous that she’s managed to avoid some TSA watchlists, to be honest. 😉
In all seriousness, the action sequences are impressive, with great descriptions of hand to hand combat. Erika clearly did her research to make the fight sequences exciting, and not a standard recitation of “kick kick kick punch punch ow blood.” She also writes very well from the point of view of a cocky CIA agent. It was fun to get to know Bai a little better, and to see some vulnerability from him as well. He’s an entertaining hero with a young voice who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Though he’s obviously an elite agent, he’s far from stuffy and his internal monologue is relatable for a younger generation of readers looking to venture into espionage thrillers for the first time.
Also, a certain blogger that you’re familiar with may or may not make a very well-dressed cameo appearance as a junior officer at the San Diego field office, and gets to flirt with Bai just a leeeeeeetle bit.
I was not blushing, I swear.
Ok, I was. Book crushes, for the win.
By the way, if you think I’m finished talking about “Bai Tide,” you’d be sadly mistaken. I have some more fun posts in store, including the first in a new series I’m hoping to start and an interview with Ms. Mitchell herself to coincide with the paperback release. I have all kinds of surprises up my sleeve!
As the weather is starting to FINALLY warm up, download your copy of “Bai Tide” and enjoy some early summer reading! You’ll be just as hooked as I was!
Also, pop over to Erika’s blog today for some more trivia about the hottest new superspy around. 😉