The Athena Project, by Brad Thor

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“More illing than thrilling.”

the_athena_projectI first became aware of this novel through an article back in February about MMA champion Ronda Rousey and her move into movies, which said

Ms. Rousey’s supporting parts are a run-up to a planned starring role in “The Athena Project,” a movie about a team of female counterterrorism agents. The film is in the early stages of development with Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. Producers cast her after one sit-down meeting and are working on the script now. That film “is what I would really like to make into my franchise,” Ms. Rousey said. “Like Stallone has his ‘Rambo’ and Schwarzenegger has his ‘Terminator’ and Bruce Willis has his ‘Die Hard.'”

Okay, that sounds intriguing enough, though whether it’ll come to pass is harder to say – the rights were bought back in November 2010, before the novel hit stores, so it clearly isn’t exactly rushing into production. I got a copy of the book and… was distinctly underwhelmed. I don’t generally “do” literature, so this review will probably consist of me flailing around, trying to explain why, but I do understand why this is easily the lowest-rated of all Thor’s books on Amazon. It gets an average of 3.2 stars, with the next lowest with any significant volume of reviews being a 3.9; frankly, the former figure seems generous.

The central plot isn’t bad. The Athena Project are a group of four Delta Force operatives, all women, who carry out missions requiring their special skills. In this case, they’re digging into an arms dealer responsible for provisioning a terrorist attack, but the further they dig, they murkier things get. Eventually, they uncover a scheme to leverage resurrected Nazi technology, and create a new generation of weapons, against which there can be no defense. There’s also an entirely separate side story, involving a cell of the villains honeypotting a guy into smuggling a component into the secret government facility buried under Denver Airport. That’s long been a belief among conspiracy theorists, so is kinda neat. But it’s woefully connected to the rest of the story, and there’s no payoff to this aspect. It feels almost like Thor had two half-novels written, and decided just to intersperse their chapters.

But the main problem are the female characters: Gretchen Casey, Julie Ericsson, Megan Rhodes, and Alex Cooper. I had to look those names up, because as heroines, they are completely forgettable and indistinguishable from each other. Maybe Thor would have been better off concentrating on a single character, as it seems he does in his other works [his main hero there, Scot Harvath, pops up briefly in this novel]. On the other hand, maybe that wouldn’t have helped, given literary gems such as “Considering what these women did for a living, they certainly wouldn’t have described themselves as being dressed to kill, but everyone else would have.” Or “I don’t know about Mr. Right, but he definitely looks like he could be Mr. Right Now.” Is there a world where women talk like that? Maybe, with the right actresses, lines like that might work on the screen; on the printed page, however, they come over as cheesier than a block of aged Cheddar.

What Thor does do well is action, and when he concentrates on that, the results are snappy and effective. Although the villains appear to come from the Imperial Stormtrooper school of accuracy, it’s easy to picture in your mind what’s going on, and it makes for exciting entertainment. That’s why I’m not immediately consigning the movie to the garbage can since, in the right hands, this could still be good. Thor seems convinced, stating after news of Rousey’s association with the picture broke: “We have never seen a chick kick ass like this. This is going to make Tomb Raider look like a Disney movie.” That’s tough talk – I’ll be hoping the film lives up to the concept’s potential, and isn’t such a disappointment, frankly, as large chunks of this poorly-written novel.

Author: Brad Thor
Publisher: Pocket Books, 432pp, $9.99

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