Monday, August 11, 2014

I Am The Mission by Allen Zadoff

I Am The Mission is the exciting second book in Allen Zadoff's teenage assassin series.

Zach is counselor in training (CIT) at a summer sports camp for boys in Vermont. While waiting for his next assignment in a hotel room his thoughts of what happened with Samara, the daughter of New York's mayor, in the last assignment overwhelm him. He breaks off communications with The Program and goes off the grid, taking a bus to Vermont and getting the CIT position.

However he is quickly tracked down by The Program and is captured by soldiers hired by Father.  Father tells Zach that The Program is concerned about his loyalty. He takes Zach on a helicopter ride where he is tested once again regarding his loyalties.

Satisfied that he is faithful to the mission and The Program, they fly on to New Hampshire while Father tells Zach the background for his next mission which is to be a test of his loyalty.

Another operative in the Program has gone missing while on a mission. Father is certain that the operative is dead and the mission is lost. Zach is needed to go in and finish the job. Eugene Moore runs a military camp for teens in rural New Hampshire. The camp, called Camp Liberty is for the children of right-wingers is of concern to The Program, because their online activity indicates Moore's group is probing infrastructure in the Northeastern United States, including power plants and Department of Transportation computers. The Program is expecting something  big is coming and they want to stop Moore whose camp is located in a valley in the mountains north of Manchester.

But first Zach is taken to a hospital for a check-up where he has blood tests, a PET/CT scan. Zach is approved for the mission but he notices that the scar from a previous wound was hurting him during the scan. He will discover the reason for this later on in the novel.

Both Mother and Father continue to brief him on his new mission. Zach is told that Moore has two children, Lee and Miranda. This time there will be no mark. Instead Zach, posing as Daniel, will attend a recruiting event run by Camp Liberty. Mother and Father believe that Zach's recent doubts will make him an easy pick for Moore at the recruitment. He is to get close to Moore at the recruitment and assassinate him. Under no circumstances is he to go into Camp Liberty which is under a total communications blackout due to high-tech electronic signal blocking. Entry to and from is also strictly controlled.

Daniel is taken first to a safe house in suburban Manchester where he is prepped for the mission by Father who then drives him to the recruitment event. Lee Moore tells Daniel that he is one of a dozen other kids selected to meet Moore. Daniel is with Lee working his way up to Lee's father when suddenly his way is blocked by security. Lee tells him his father has changed his mind about seeing Daniel. At this time a woman tries to attack Eugene Moore but Daniel reacts quickly and saves Moore. This action allows Daniel to meet Moore but he is too protected for Daniel to act. He loses the mission as designed by The Program. However, when Lee offers him a tour of Camp Liberty, Daniel decides to disobey Father's instructions and to travel to the camp.

On the way to the camp, Daniel is separated from Lee, Miranda and the rest of the group and is taken the rest of the way by Francisco, a security advisor. Francisco tells Daniel that he doesn't believe who he says he is and he tries unsuccessfully to get Daniel to come clean about his identity. At Camp Liberty, Daniel learns that the permanent people play an online game designed by Lee, that tests their military skills.

Although he's locked into his room, Daniel easily escapes and decides to hike up the mountain to try to connect with Father or Mother, since his previous calls have gone unanswered. He discovers that camp has an invisible laser perimeter to monitor who comes and goes. Daniel easily gets past this and heads up into the forest but he runs into Miranda Lee who has been following him. She guesses correctly that he is trying to get past the electronic jamming to make a phone call although she doesn't really know who Daniel is trying to call. She helps him travel to a spot to make the call but Daniel is unable to reach either Father or Mother. Daniel thinks it might be because of the technical interference, but he also considers the possibility that he has been cut off by The Program.

The evening of the next day sees Daniel along with Miranda and Lee sent out on a "Mission" or Hunt. This turns out to be a practice run involving poisoning the water supply for Manchester which they have to treat as a real op until they are told otherwise. Lee is angry that it is part of the game used to train Camp Liberty personnel while Miranda believes doing something like this is justified. Daniel comes to realize that Moore is serious about training young people to commit acts of terrorism against their own people.

Daniel leaves Camp Liberty and returns to the safe house, only to find that it is no longer a safe house. Instead he finds a couple living there and they are attacked by a freelance team that tries to kill Daniel.Unable to reach Father and needing more information, Daniel calls his friend Howard, a hacker who helped Zach on a previous mission sort fact from truth and to find out about the SDHC card he found on the body of one of the freelance ops. While Zach returns to Camp Liberty, Howard will continue to research the SDHC card.

Zach returns to the mission but during a drill when he manages to make it to Moore's war room, Francisco confronts him and asks him to go out on hike to fix a relay station. It is during this hike that Francisco reveals his identity to Zach and tells him more about The Program. Zach has to make a choice between believing what he's been told by The Program and completing his mission or believing what Francisco has told him.


I Am The Mission bumps up the intensity, the action and the excitement a few notches compared to the first novel, I Am The Weapon - previously titled, Boy Nobody. Zach, as Daniel Martin is still a strong, efficient assassin, as he calculates angles,evaluates each situation and strategizes over his opponents. His unemotional narrative is what makes this book so engaging.

I Am The Mission has a great storyline, is well paced with a great cast of characters. Zach is a fascinating character because he's complex, he's conflicted and the reader gets to experience both of these attributes as a result of Zach telling his story. He was brought into The Program when he was twelve after being told both his parents were dead. He's athletically gifted and highly intelligent. He's been expertly trained to not question his orders, to not show remorse and to be fully committed to his missions.  Or is he?  Zach is starting to question what he's been told, partly because he is maturing into adulthood and partly because of what he has learned during the last mission and during this one, especially from Francisco. What he learned from the previous mission has caused him to have doubts which Zach believes can be dealt with by simply continuing to work. At the crux of his doubts however, is what happened to his father and how Zach came to be recruited into The Program. He has bits and pieces of memories but nothing is certain and he knows he needs to find out more. In addition he now must face Francisco's revelations which he eventually learns are true. Complicating matters further are Howard's discoveries about the SDHC card which reveal new information about Zach's father. And how he was treated by The Program have made him realize at the end of his mission that he can now trust no one except maybe Howard.

"The Program is back, our protocols are in place, and the elements have been arranged for my safe egress.
It's as if the last four days never happened.....
Part of me wants to accept this. I was used and I survived. This was my mission. It was more complex than the ones that preceded it, but so be it. Everything is back to normal now.
But another part of me knows this is a lie. I trusted these people once.
Never again."

Howard is a truly delightful character, a foil to the highly trained, fearless Zach. They have an unlikely friendship despite the fact that Zach works for the government and Howard as a hacker, is anti-establishment. Although Howard possesses considerable electronic intelligence, he's very much an innocent teenage boy, who dreams of the kind of things that Zach does. He's brave and loyal - two traits Zach desperately needs in his life.

It touches on the theme of identity especially with Zach struggling to maintain his identity as a teenage assassin while mourning the loss of a "normal" life as a teenager which he seems to be doing more in the second novel.  There is also the issue of a government recruiting and training young people to become deadly weapons easily abandoned to their fate should things not work out according to plan. Readers may struggle with the idea that Zach is so young; if he were slightly older, perhaps eighteen or nineteen the story would be more plausible.He's composed and analytical beyond  his years and in the case of I Am The Mission he actually goes three days without sleep and is still able to function

There is some minor sexuality in the novel and of course a great deal of violence with numerous murders making this a novel for teens 14 years and older. Nevertheless with so few really good novels geared towards the male teenage reader, this age group will enjoy the James Bond-esque action of the Unknown Assassin series.

You can check out Allen Zadoff's website here.

Book Details:
I Am The Mission by Allen Zadoff
New York: Little, Brown and Company   2014
421 pp.

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