Book Review: THE INFORMATIONIST by Taylor Stevens

One of the reasons I love to read is to educate myself. There are books that entertain and examine the human condition and tell great stories but sometimes I’m attracted to something simply because it sounds foreign to me.

That’s partly why I wanted to read Taylor Stevens‘s debut novel, The Informationist. It takes place in African regions I don’t often hear about and has characters talking in a language I’d never heard of (Fang, anyone?). It also has an interesting lead character in Vanessa Michael Munroe, someone who’s expert at extracting information from anywhere anytime. She sometimes disguises herself as a man—hence the middle name.

She’s hired by Texas billionaire Richard Burbank to locate his daughter, Emily, who went missing four years ago while traveling in Africa, where Munroe grew up. She returns there with Miles Bradford, both a bodyguard and babysitter assigned by Burbank, to find answers but also to confront certain ghosts from her wild, violent past.

Munroe has been compared to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander in blurbs and I can see why: she’s good with computers, rides a motorcycle, is antisocial, formidable in a fight, etc. But that’s just PR shorthand because Munroe is her own person and I never felt that Stevens was aping Larsson. If the author was borrowing from anywhere, it seems to be from her own life. As I mentioned in this earlier post about authors’ bios, Stevens had a peripatetic childhood during which she lived with a cult in two dozen countries (including Equatorial Guinea, where much of the novel’s action takes place) and was denied education after the age of twelve. Munroe is resourceful and resilient in a way that I imagine Stevens had to be when she escaped from the cult. I’m probably projecting but when the novel comes with that kind of backstory, it’s hard not to.

The prose can be a little melodramatic at times but the plot is smart, the action brutal, and the heroine as unconventional as the setting. You’ll gain knowledge about a foreign world and in the end become a bit of an informationist yourself.

Nerd verdict: Savvy Informationist

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Jessie
    April 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

    This sounds interesting, PCN. I love strong heroines and exotic places. I’ll have to check this out!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      April 22, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Let me know what you think if you do check it out.

  • Reply
    Poncho
    April 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Great review! And you got me interested in the book.

    Already added to the TBR 😀

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      April 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      How high is your TBR now? Finished all your Craises yet?

      • Reply
        Poncho
        April 23, 2011 at 1:32 am

        Nope. Not yet… I was reading very little ’cause of the issues I had last few weeks, but I’m catching up!

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    April 23, 2011 at 2:11 am

    Sounds like a great way to learn about a new place, PCN. I’ll add it to The List. Now that I’ve tried my first audio book, perhaps I can make some more headway!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      April 23, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Did you like your first audiobook, Shell? I can’t get into them despite having had some good experiences.

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