In the speculative thriller Privileged Secrets, conspiracies both human and supernatural are exposed because of a New York cult.
Harper Woods’s engrossing thriller Privileged Secrets involves a patriarchal cult—and a centuries-old secret sisterhood that will stop at nothing to take it down.
The book is set in contemporary New York, where Ruth and Erica, two members of the powerful Society of Truth, break into the cult’s secret library, where only the three elders are allowed. Inside, they find documents spanning several decades that detail the cult’s sexual abuse and pedophilia scandals, all of which were kept under wraps to keep the dictatorial men who run the cult in power. Though they want to take the cult down from the inside, Ruth and Erica don’t know whom they can trust to help.
When a character is revealed to be an ancient immortal being with supernatural abilities—the grandchild of Adam and Eve—the story takes a turn toward the mythical. The focus shifts from the more riveting work of dismantling the cult, instead focusing on a clandestine operation to retrieve artifacts from the Garden of Eden, which the Society of Truth had kept hidden. While characters still engage in cult and anti-cult dealings in New York, Ruth, Erica, and their newfound allies travel the world, all with the help of a secret society of women who operate undercover, smuggling the artifacts to safety.
The cast is vast, though all of its members play distinctive roles. While some characters seem to appear out of nowhere, introduced only when their presences are necessary, after brief exposés, they meld into the cast as if they’ve always been there and belong. Many are archetypal good and evil stand-ins, which variously results in tension and leaves some feeling like plot devices, rather than individuals. Some major characters are killed off, making for exhilarating plot twists.
This fast-moving story is moved along by high-intensity situations and sharp wit. Still, some exchanges, as with a discourse about natural remedies for cancer, are didactic and without context. Further, characters’ inner thoughts are placed in quotation marks, confusing what is said aloud and what is not.
The book’s depictions of sexual abuse are frequent but brief; they are always condemned. A developing romance moves at a slow pace to counter the fast moves of international espionage, ramping up anticipation for a steamy payoff. The ending resolves a few of the subplots, resulting in some catharsis, but leaves bigger, more affecting dilemmas unresolved for the sequel.
With religious and romantic undertones, the speculative thriller Privileged Secrets relocates the battle between good and evil to a cult in New York, exposing conspiracies both human and supernatural.
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