Manuel Gonzales’ The Regional Office is Under Attack! is exactly what it says on the tin. The action, which takes place in breathless present-tense chapters, covers the events of the attack on the Regional Office, while the backstory inevitably pointing towards its fall is conveyed by academic article.
The Regional Office is, on the surface of things, an upmarket travel agency in New York, at which work some very ordinary New Yorkers. However, the truth lies underground: the floors below street level are the headquarters for a a shadowy organisation which trains and dispatches young women with extraordinary talents to fight multifarious intra- and extra-dimensional threats to the safety of the planet.
Despite being a bit of a chunk at 307 pages, it’s a bloody fast read, due to its action movie-quick pace. Not only that, the voice is never not clever and contemporary. It references Die Hard as characters abseil through air ducts, and Terminator when a character thinks about her mechanical arm. (There’s a character with a mechanical arm. Keep an eye out for her.)
The dichotomy that powers the novel is that between the ordinary and the extraordinary. The frisson between the banality of office life and the superlatively glamorous and exciting business of deadly, magical agents saving the world every day is the central conceit, but also the distance being or becoming out-of-the-ordinary puts between people and the world around them, and the attempt to close that gap again when you are who you are. How to be in the world when you can see the future, or crush someone’s skull in your hand, or simply have power over other people’s lives.
The threads that join this story together are, as a result, for the very most part dysfunctional. That is, dysfunctional in the way that real relationships are, but writ large. The wrongs that people commit against one another are the bread and butter of the plot of the novel. Ultimately, as expressed in a central moment, the instigating factor always turns out to be love, and, in acting, the catalyst is destroyed. This too-recognisable theme hums under the pacy adventure plot, anchoring the delightful whimsy of these super-powered women heroes in real emotion.
Enough with my necessary vagueness. To sum up, The Regional Office is Under Attack! is a heart-pounding, adrenaline-quick action novel in a self-consciously intelligent and yet irresistible voice. It’ll stick in my mind for some time.
While the novel has been out in the US for over a year, The Regional Office is Under Attack! will be published in the UK on July 13th, 2017, in print and ebook by Ebury Publishing. You can preorder it at Amazon (UK), the Book Depository, or your local independent bookshop, or you can request it at your local library.