Nina D’Aleo’s The White List (Momentum Books) is a strange combination of success and failure. The premise is preposterous, the plotting is perfunctory – but the prose is zippy and entertaining and the characters acutely observed.
Genetic superhumans walk among us, most unaware that they have the ‘Shaman’ trait. A few awaken to manifest their powers, usually in violently destructive ways. Silvia Denaglia (code name: Silver!) is an operative for a super-secret agency that exists to capture and suppress them. But she has increasing doubts about the agency – its methods seem callous and its operatives careless of human life.
Of course there’s a conspiracy within a conspiracy, and the agency is tainted by evil, and there’s a rebel mutant good-guy underground, and her contact with it is the enigmatic man of her dreams. To call the worldbuilding cardboard would be an insult to honest cardboard, and anyone even marginally genre-savvy can see each breathless reveal in the plot coming from miles away. On these levels the book is dumb, dumber, dumbest – really embarrassingly bad.
And yet, it’s oddly charming. The prose is energetic and well-constructed. The characters work even though they’re trapped by the tropes they’re assigned to. There’s a good deal of wry comedy and quite a number of laugh-out-loud lines, especially in the earlier parts of the book. Ms. D’Aleo is not beyond hope; in fact I’d say she’s one half of a terrific writer. She would benefit from collaborating with somebody who knows how to do setting and plot but lacks her gift for the microlevel of writing.
Finally, a warning: This is one of those dishonestly-packaged books that is volume one of a series without being so labeled, and ends unresolved.