Suyana Sapaki, the young Face of United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation may appear to have an important role in the International Assembly but really it's her handlers and controllers behind the scenes who have all of the power. She agrees with their idea to have her meet the Face of the United States as a "date" but when the meeting turns into an assignation attempt the number of suspects on her list who want her out of the picture includes a shocking number of her own contacts. Illicit photojournalist Daniel Park intervenes and helps Suyana escape but is he just another part of the set-up?
I'm normally not fond of political thrillers for several reasons, namely that the characters usually feel like they're being pushed around by the plot more than anything else. Technically Suyana is being manipulated more by other people's plots than her own here, however, as the reader is quick to find out, Suyana is already involved in a few radical conspiracies. She has a line that goes something like "I was always warned that people would try to recruit me to their cause, my handlers never thought that one of them would be one I believed in" and that really helped sell her to me. She has next to no political power, no clout, and yet in this subversive and truly dangerous way she is involved, and it adds to the tension since Suyana truly doesn't know if she's being targeted merely for being the Face of UARC or for her other deeds.
There was one problem with the setting that I had some trouble with and that was understanding how people outside of the IA view the IA. Our two point of view characters are Suyana, a member and very familiar with how it works, and Daniel, who's job originally was to support the IA basically. For these two characters there's never any question that the Faces don't actually do that much but I just couldn't tell if that knowledge is secret or not. On the one hand, creating a global conspiracy (ie, that the general public doesn't know where the power is) really stretches the boundary of disbelief but on the other hand, the public pays attention to Faces the way you would pay attention to a politician, not a celebrity, which puzzled me. It's not a problem that hurts the plot per-say but it does play into Daniel's story a little bit. Overall Daniel's plot line also grabbed me less than Suyana's, the "journalist gone seedy" idea is one I've seen more of and Daniel himself struggles with his motivation for helping and believing Suyana for the entire story so it was much harder to believe into him. But ultimately he's not a bad character and I do rather like that both leads are non-white, that alone would make me recommend the book in certain circles and the fact that Valentine has made such a tough genre story interesting has put this book on my list of favorites from 2016.