Earlier this month I had an interview with the author, Kevin Johns (which you can read here) and now it’s time for my review of his book! And as I warned in that post about the gore content of the blurb, the book does not disappoint on that front!
Plus, in the spy scheme of things: enter here to win a copy of memoir Code Name: Papa!
M School by Kevin T Johns
Genre: Action Thriller
WELCOME TO MURDER HIGH…
17-year-old Lilith Delaney has lived a quiet life despite a history of mental health troubles, but when she finds her best friend’s mutilated corpse in a high school locker room her world is transformed forever.
Lilith discovers nothing around her is as it seems. A hidden war has been raging in the halls of her school between domestic terrorists and a mysterious agency willing to do anything to stop them.
In hopes of avenging her dead friend, Lilith joins M School, a secret underwater training facility dedicated to transforming teenagers into world-class assassins. But the longer Lilith spends at M School, the more she begins to wonder if what she’s being taught will help her catch her friend’s murderer, or just turn her into the very thing she set out to stop… a cold blooded killer.
This book started as a 3-star rating for me but definitely earned its fourth star. At the beginning, the writing felt a little juvenile and the dialogue somewhat disjointed but it picked up the pace as the story progressed and built up its strength.
It seems like it’d be difficult to branch out with a unique story in this well-known and often-used trope of secret spies/assassins, especially with the deluge of movies, but I think starting with teenage girls was a great start! As the book is first-person from Lilith’s perspective, the author also gave us an inside look at how a sociopath (as the reading seemed to very strongly suggesting) really sees the world. I know sociopaths/psychopaths often drive these stories but here we got to understand how and why she interacts with people the way she does and the challenges that come out of those interactions. As much as you can like a sociopathic trained assassin, I really came to like Lilith’s character!
The main plot is that a terrorist group is at large in Lilith’s town, though she doesn’t know this until her best friend, and undercover agent, is murdered and Lilith is recruited to the agency to be trained to take her place. Perhaps strangely for this genre, we actually get to see this training. Maybe I haven’t read too many spy books and focused more on movies but usually we get a very quick montage where the person suddenly picks up all the skills they need in a couple days. Here, the author recognized that Lilith has a lot to learn and so much of the book takes place within this school. As well as making the story more realistic, it was fascinating to read of all the classes and exams that these students have to take. FYI there is a class on seduction techniques, no further comment.
More impressively, however, is that the happenings in the school work to subvert all our expectations about who this group is actually fighting. Where is the real threat, in her hometown or in the classroom? I really enjoyed these twists and every time I was left wondering what the truth actually was. I still don’t know who the real bad guys are. I actually wrote in my notes “so confusing but in a good way” cuz I think all this confusion makes for a much more entertaining and compelling read.
There were some minor plot points that I didn’t understand, just in relation to the overarching story, but they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. The only thing I would like to have seen explored more was Lara’s background, Lilith’s best friend who was murdered. While we only get a brief look into her life, she is seemingly a very outgoing and bubbly person, which didn’t seem to fit at all with the violent and sociopathic students at the M School that she used to be a part of. I had a difficult time imagining her in that setting and since we did only get this brief look, it wasn’t enough to paint a full picture of her.
Still, there were a lot of strong points in this book and despite my apprehensions with the title of “murder school” that this would be much too violent for my tastes, it worked really well in balancing the adventures with a kind of character study (so it’s not all about the gore ;)). I guess with the school aspect this almost works as a prequel to your typical spy story, so it’s a great way to mix up the genre and give it a different focus!
About the Author:
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review