‘The Shadow Mission’ by Shamim Sarif is international intrigue with a strong female secret agent

“The Shadow Mission” is the sequel to “The Athena Protocol” by Shamim Sarif, and both novels feature Jessie Archer, a secret agent/vigilante who works for Athena, a secret, nongovernmental organization dedicated to helping children and women around the world who are being targeted by fanatical groups or governments.

In the first book, we learn that Jessie’s mother, Kit, formerly a famous musician, created the group with two other powerful women. One is Li, a Chinese tech billionaire, and the other is Peggy, who was the first African American women to be a US ambassador to the UK, and who has contacts in every continent and country. Jessie and two other women form the active troops who actually get the “saving” part done. Caitlin is former military, served in the Middle East and has PTSD. Hala is from Syria and was a refugee; she still worries about her brother, who is stranded in their homeland.

In this novel, a radical group called Family First has burned down one of the schools that Kit sponsored with the students and teachers inside the school in Pakistan.  Family First is a shadowy Muslim terrorist organization that wants girls to have no choice but marriage — no education, no college, no independence. At the start of the story, Athena received word that another attack is planned on a school in Mumbai, and Jessie and the two others must find out where the attack will be. They don’t have much time. In fact, they manage to save most of the schoolgirls, but their information came too late to save them all.

Now they learn that Family First is planning another attack, and some highly placed government officials might be cooperating with the well-funded terrorists. Jessie and the others must figure it out before the attack can happen. While investigating the first attack, Jessie meets a local Mumbai detective, Riya, and they definitely feel a connection. During the course of the story, their relationship grows. In the first novel, Jessie made a huge miscalculation in whom she trusted, and she is determined not to allow that to happen again. Is Riya really on the level? Then there’s her superior, Sunil, who is difficult to figure out. He’s caught in a compromising situation, but does that mean he’s working for Family First?

As in the first novel, Sarif handles the fact that Jessie is gay with a gentle touch. There is nothing graphic; the romance is tender and sweet. It’s secondary to the intrigue of the plot, but Sarif definitely has an agenda with these books. Her agenda, it would appear, is to highlight the many ways and manners in which groups of people all over the world try to subjugate women from childhood on. From criminals to fanatic religious groups, Sarif points out, women are abused and remain unprotected because when it comes down to it, governments just don’t really care about women. The men in charge can always find more important targets and more pressing issues than making sure that all girls are provided with equal rights, an education, and a chance to determine their own futures.

I hope this becomes a series with more books because not only is Jessie a main character who is a lovely role model, she’s also a main character with passion and morals. Yet she’s far from perfect — in both books she lets her temper get the best of her. Unlike other young adult books with lots of angst regarding sexual attraction and boys, Sarif makes Jessie’s sexual orientation a side note rather than the main event. It’s as much a part of the story as the flirtations of the other girls Jessie works with. And yet in this story, it becomes so much more, and hits even harder because of a heartbreaking ending.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by HarperTeen, the publisher, for review purposes.