The Lab


Author: Jack Heath

Publication: 2008, Scholastic

Pages: 311

Overall Rating:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Agent Six of Hearts was grown in a lab.  He’s the product of illegal experimentation, genetically altered to make him stronger, faster, and more agile than any normal human being.  His bones can withstand long jumps onto concrete.  He has excellent night vision and an incredible memory.  In other words, he makes the perfect secret agent.  He works for an organization known as The Deck, which fights corruption and greed in a futuristic world ruled by a single corporation, ChaoSonic.  Six has a perfect record.  He’s never failed to complete a mission.  But his next assignment is to investigate The Lab, the very people who created him.  Now he has to walk a tightrope, trying to do his job as a Deck agent while keeping his origins a secret.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: The Lab is as much a military story as a spy novel.  Soldiers abound, and Heath does a fantastic job of providing minute and believable details about their gear and equipment.  From guns to cars, helicopters, and body armor Heath makes everything look and sound realistic.  That’s important in a novel like this.  It’s an action story at heart, and much of the action comes from conflicts between Six and the soldiers hired to guard The Lab and the other companies he’s sent to infiltrate.  The details that Heath provides, gives those conflicts an extra layer of realism and intensity and helps propel the action forward.

What I Liked the Least: I have a couple of real issues with this book.  First off, Agent Six was too perfect.  Now, there are a lot of books out there featuring superhuman characters.  But normally, from early on in the book, they’re pitted against superhuman villains.  Six doesn’t face anyone comparable to himself until the latter half of the book.  Mostly he’s just fighting regular soldiers.   As a result, there weren’t a lot of times when I felt nervous for him.  I always expected him to win.  He was just too good.

But Six isn’t just perfect, he’s emotionally distant and cold.  Other than fear, he has little reaction to anything.  That’s part of the story, and it’s something he slowly works to overcome, but it made the first half of the book emotionally unsatisfying.  In many ways, Six felt like a flesh and blood robot, which made it hard to empathize with his character or get into the story.

Put all this together, and it creates another problem.  Six never feels like a teenager.   He lives alone – not because he’s a runaway, but because he literally doesn’t need anyone.  He grows his own vegetables, watches only news on the TV, and spends his evenings speed reading through books like Philosophy and its Application in Today’s Society.  And unlike other teen spies, he’s not being sent out there because he can go unnoticed in places where an adult would get caught.  He’s going out there because he’s perfect.  He lives like an adult and acts like an adult, and if Heath didn’t occasionally mention that he was a teenager, you’d never know it.

How Good was the Action?  The action is actually kind of mixed.  There are some truly superb scenes, involving the perfect mix of blow-by-blow action and high tension.   This book might well contain one of the best car chases you’ll ever see on paper.  On the other hand, some of the action scenes frankly blow, and there two basic reasons for that.  First, like I said above, Six is too perfect.  There were plenty of times when the action did nothing for me because I knew he couldn’t fail and that undermined any of Heath’s efforts to build tension.  Second, some of the action scenes were nearly impossible to follow.  Six is doing such insane things with his body that I lost all track of what was going on.  Don’t get me wrong, for all the action scenes that didn’t really work there quite a few that blew me away.  So go ahead and have some fun with this one, just don’t be surprised when some of the scenes leave you scratching your head trying to figure out what just happened.

How Engaging was the Story?  Not very.  A lot of this goes back to my concerns about how cool, perfect, and emotionally distant Six’s character was.  The story is basically one long series of missions with brief interludes in between.  It makes for a lot of action – some of which is excellent – but there’s not a lot of room for story or character development.  So unless I was right in the middle of a hot and heavy action scene, I found it all too easy to put this book down.

Overall Assessment: The Lab is a non-stop action thrill ride and many of the action sequences are truly breathtaking in their scope and intensity – though a few lack adequate tension of are simply so complex and hard to follow that they ultimately fall flat.  Still, the action in this book has some spectacular moments that help make up for the overall lack of character development and Six’s cold, emotionless personality.  If you’re in the mood for a good, action heavy thrill ride with few emotional complications, The Lab might be just what the doctor ordered.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  But much of the violence is somewhat superficial.  Plenty of people get beaten up and knocked unconscious, but there’s not a lot of blood.  And Six’s personal code makes him unwilling to kill, so for all the fights taking place hardly anyone dies until the very end of the book.

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