Defector is the second novel in the Variants Series by Susanne Winnacker. It picks up immediately after the mission completed in the first novel, Impostor.
Alec and Tessa are returning to their FEA (Forces With Extraordinary Abilities) base after Tessa's first mission which was almost a disaster. Alec has told Tessa that he has ended his relationship with Kate and is interested in being with her. On their first date night in response to Tessa's questions about his relationship with Kate, Alec tells her that he and Kate became a couple due to their involvement in a mission together.
The group of agents are called to a meeting by Major who is in charge of the FEA because another agent has disappeared. The meeting includes Alec and Tessa, Tanner, Kate, along with newcomers Devon whose variation is healing and Phil whose variation is producing a killing toxin. Agent Stevens has disappeared, likely due to Abel's Army, the rogue Variant organization. Major believes that Abel's Army needs reinforcements, "Variants with useful talents" and that they were likely targeting Devon and Phil who were being guarded by Agent Stevens.
Abel's Army broke away from FEA years ago and are involved with illegal activities associated with the Russian, Italian and Chinese mafia. Alec states that he has heard that AA has a Variant in their group who is able to alter memories, thus keeping the Variants existence a secret.
Kate approaches Tessa to reveal to her about Alec's secret second Variation - his ability to manipulate other's emotions. Kate tells Tessa he is a Dual Variant and that he has used his second variant to manipulate her. Tessa confronts Alec and learns that what Kate told her is true and then questions Alec as to whether he has manipulated her emotions. She learns that he has done this "Only for your own good. I wanted to help you."
Before Tessa has time to digest these new revelations, Major informs Tessa, Alec and Tessa's roommate and best friend, Holly that they have been assigned to a new mission - Tessa is to impersonate a politician, Senator Jack Pollard who has been receiving death threats, while Alec and Holly will provide security backup. Tessa agrees to this and meets Pollard so she can grab his DNA enabling her to impersonate him. She also learns that someone has stolen the files on the FEA prison where rogue variants are being housed. The event does not go according to plan however as they are attacked by Abel's Army and Holly is kidnapped.
Despite the recapture of the missing Agent Stevens, Tessa is furious. Stevens refuses to divulge any information about Abel's Army except to tell Tessa that they want her and not Holly. Stevens also stuns Tessa with the claim that she has Abel's unique turquoise blue eyes. This revelation, which is confirmed by Major, unravels Tessa's commitment and loyalty to the FEA. Major tells her that by not telling her Abel is her father, he was trying to protect her because he would have recruited her if he knew about her Variation. Abel learned about Tessa from the Livingston mission and discovered she too was a Variant.
This revelation leads Tessa to long for the father she cannot remember and to question why he left her and her mother and what has become of her brother who must also be a Variant. Suspecting Tessa's interest in her father, Major paints a picture of Abel as a ruthless man, telling her that her father only keeps those Variants he can use and that Abel abandoned her when he no longer needed her. Major tells Tessa that Holly will be used as bait to trap her and he refuses her request to help location Holly.
Tessa suspects that Major has not told her all of the truth about herself or her family. So she decides to assume Major's body and to break into the restricted area which houses top secret files. Tessa finds files on her father, Abel Crane, her mother Heather Crane and herself. Her mother is identified as a "volatile" Variant, meaning she is either prone to mental illness or has lost control of her Variation which is regeneration. In her father's files she finds pictures of him when she was much younger and information that he might be with his group in the American Southwest. Tessa also learns that her mother has been in contact with her father multiple times during the past year. Tessa's file indicates that she is considered possibly Volatile and that Kate and Alec have been assigned to watch her.
Tessa is discovered by Major who takes her back to his office. He considers her behaviour over the past few days to be erratic and informs Tessa that he will be sending her to their facility to be treated for her emotional instability. Major walks her to her room where he forces her to take sleeping pills and injects her with a tracker device. When he leaves Tessa decides that she needs to get to Devon so he can help neutralize the sedative with his healing Variation. With Devon's help Tessa manages to escape the FEA compound intent upon finding her father and the truth about her past. It is a journey that will see her change alliances and begin to unravel the past of her mother and father.
Continuing the X-Men theme, in Defector we meet more Variants with unusual powers; Alec who can manipulate the emotions of those around him, Stanley whose spittle drugs people (seriously?), Jago who can transport people over short distances, Will who shatters glass and her brother Zach who can store memories and replay them for others as well as change those memories . Winnacker keeps her readers interested with strange twists in the storyline, yet this doesn't stop the plot from falling into a predictable ending. Defector is mostly about Tessa's journey to learn more about her missing father, whom she discovers is the leader of the rebel Variants. In Defector, she's overwrought and rebellious, struggling with her identity and feeling betrayed by FEA and the boy she loves, Alec.
Winnacker paints the FEA as a typical government agency, not to be trusted, ruthless, with a spin on every story, including the ones they tell their own agents. For every story or "truth" that Major tells Tessa, there is a corresponding explanation given by Tessa's father, mother and brother. In this respect, Defector shines, because like Tessa, the reader simply doesn't know who to believe. Although at the end of the novel, Tessa feels she has come home, the reader wonders if the memories Zach has provided about her life before her mother left Abel are real or have been altered.
It's likely the third novel in this series will see Tessa learning the truth about Abel and her mother Heather and having to decide which version she can live with and how she chooses to live her own life. This paranormal romance really has nothing new to offer. The writing is adequate, the storyline an old one, and the character not in any way captivating.
Defector by Susanne Winnacker
New York: Razorbill, An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) 2014