Jason Bourne returns in the Ludlumverse 3.0 reboot in Brian Freeman’s The Bourne Evolution, revamped for the current day socio-political climate, and is a fun espionage action thriller. The legendary amnesiac assassin’s character has been retconned from most of his previously known backstory and actions, being different from Eric Van Lustbader’s Bourne books, Ludlum’s original trilogy, and the movies, while still being a treat for fans of all those previous versions of Bourne. This new ‘fresh start’ for the character is not disappointing as the plot with its large-scale Ludlum-esque conspiracy is timely for our era and a certain plot element is a relevant concept for spy thrillers in our time that hits close to reality.
When a politician is assassinated and Bourne is framed for it, he kicks off the story by going on the run, being hunted by multiple parties including his former employers(The legendary black ops unit Treadstone), and an anarchist secret group – Medusa – which he was formerly a part of, and even his current employers – a tech cabal consisting of the CEOs of the top tech companies in the world. Like any classic Ludlum thriller, The Bourne Evolution hits all the right spots with the paranoia loaded dramatic tale filled with double-crosses and triple-crosses, chaos, confusion, mystery, intrigue, secret societies, damaged but exceptionally over the top characters, bloody action sequences, hand to hand martial combat, intricate espionage tradecraft, international travel and locales, and all the cinematic glamor and dazzle of the exciting side of this genre.
This was surely an interesting story, but it made me feel like it was a James Bond movie rather than a Jason Bourne book at many moments. Not to mention, the action sequences were missing all the weaponized techno detail readers like me would expect in an action thriller, but considering Robert Ludlum himself didn’t go into the techno detail about weapons in his writing, I guess Bourne fans would not be bothered with this. In a way, this is a good starting point for readers to get into the Bourne books, especially if they haven’t yet read the previous versions of the literary Jason Bourne as the tales and development built by Robert Ludlum and then by Eric Van Lustbader seem to be erased here, keeping only the basic core elements of the character and aging him to the 30s/40s fit and fighting physique that seems standard for many action thriller protagonists.
The plot revolves around a Russian-backed shadowy anarchist group manipulating the public towards politically divisive extremes using tech platforms. Social media, online algorithms, suggestive behavior modification, data analysis, user manipulation, and other existing tech which are largely used by marketers and businesses is amped up here with a fictional app that can predict people’s choices before they make them, which is actually a suggestive and persuasive system, plays a big part in the story. Riots, political violence, social hate, and divisiveness are shown on an intense level in this thriller which I’d consider dystopian fiction if not for many similar real-world incidents during 2020 and 2021.
Bourne, who’s constantly on the run, teams up with Abigail Laurant, a Canadian journalist, to dig at the heart of the conspiracy he’s trapped within when her life becomes the target of Medusa and even Treadstone. The chemistry between them makes the story move away from the action-thriller genre in many moments and towards a possibly needless romance, but it’s well done in standard Ludlumesque dramatic fashion. Caught between old friends, former colleagues, a lost past, and as a fall guy for an elaborately orchestrated plot that weaves in a smooth narrative for the readers, Brian Freeman’s first entry to the series shows that this version of Jason Bourne is a smart, tough, suave and classy, damaged yet heroic, and a ruthlessly interesting protagonist for fans of the spy action thriller genre to watch out for.
Moving from Canada to the US and then to the Bahamas and Scotland, this globetrotting thriller has all the excitement and entertainment to please classic Ludlum fans, Matt Damon’s cinematic Bourne fans, and any thriller reader who’s new to the character. A minor situation I noticed in this book was that most of the characters are hyper-sexualized to extents that felt excessive compared to the action thrillers I’d normally like to read, but I can’t complain as I am a fan of action-thriller franchises like Strike Back(The TV Show) and the James Bond movies.
The main antagonist, Shirley, is a deadly femme fatale who seduces and dominates people into serving her and kills her victims with effortless ease. While a damaged, psychotic, constantly perverted, maniacally murderous lunatic, she proves a challenge for Bourne in many instances. Though I didn’t like an antagonist like her and wondered why Bourne struggled against this villain, she’s weirdly both an entertaining and odd foe against the legendary assassin.
Hardcore fans of the action-thriller genre who like the weaponized techno detail in their reading might be better off not reading this book, while the thriller and espionage fiction fanbase who enjoy reading wildly exciting tales but hate seeing the weaponry and firearms details in books would probably love this story. Considering all the richly exotic locations used in this story, if used in a movie, they would probably cost enough to bankrupt the budget of a Bond movie or be spent in an explosive hour-long Michael Bay action sequence or within mere minutes in a CGI loaded Marvel movie, but it’s definitely entertaining. Though long and dramatic, The Bourne Evolution is a complete story that closes all the plot points in an intricately woven narrative and can be read as a standalone thriller, and I’ll be reading the next book in the series, The Bourne Treachery sometime this year, probably long after it releases.