“In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack. Recruited by a defector from within, Rose is a young assassin leading the attack, eager to stretch into her powers and prove herself on her first mission. Defending the Regional Office is Sarah—who may or may not have a mechanical arm—fiercely devoted to the organization that took her in as a young woman in the wake of her mother’s sudden disappearance. On the day that the Regional Office is attacked, Rose’s and Sarah’s stories will overlap, their lives will collide, and the world as they know it just might end.”
The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is a weird little book that isn’t really like anything else and takes a bit of time to get into but is otherwise laugh-out-loud funny and wholly original. (A.k.a., I very much enjoyed it.) Manuel Gonzales throws you into the plot and expects you to keep up – which would be a turn-off in any other book – but after a couple of chapters, you’re, like, “okay, I got this.” The three stories, which interweave and overlap until you can finally parse out how everything fits, start to feel normal as head-scratching confusion turns into heart-racing anticipation.
Story one is the titular attack on the Regional Office, which is “an army of superwomen” who have been recruited and trained by the Office’s founding members, Mr. Niles and Oyemi, “to fight the evil forces of darkness” and who have already, in the book’s diegetic past, “saved the world from destruction, from self-annihilation, from the evil forces of darkness, from inter-dimensional war strikes, [and] from alien forces… like the retrieval of the Tremont Hotel from inter-dimensional, time-traveling assassins who intended to murder a future madame president by kidnapping and murdering her great-grandmother.” There are a lot of players in the first few chapters, and maybe a little too much going on, but someone named Rose is, like, doing parkour in a magic ventilation shaft and some woman named Sarah has a mechanical arm that looks like any other arm and you’re kind of okay with all of it. (Like I said, it’s a weird little book.)
Story two follows Rose and Sarah as they are recruited into and then eventually join Assassin Training Camp and the Regional Office, respectively. Except that Gonzales introduces them to you in the heat of the moment and then backtracks in such an apologetic and explanatory way that you don’t really mind knowing point D before points C and E before you’re also led to realize points B and A.
Then, interspersed with all of that, is story three, an in-universe biography of the attack on the Regional Office, appropriately titled The Regional Office Is Under Attack: Tracking the Rise and Fall of an American Institution. We are never told who is writing this book, or how they got all this informational on a super-secret spy ring operating out of a travel agency, but it’s another one of those ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ moments that you just kind of roll with.
My main question throughout the whole novel – which I will say gets answered by the book’s close – was: What is the difference between Assassin Training Camp and the Regional Office? Gonzales keeps you guessing, all the way up to the final, final twist, but you kind of don’t mind – because, well, you’re reading about coteries of super-powered female assassins who know martial arts and have literal super powers. I mean, I can’t even really describe this book. Is it a revenge story? A heist? Die Hard meets Mission Impossible? I don’t know!!! I was just genuinely invested – in how Rose’s story fit in with Sarah’s, and how both women were going to survive the Regional Office being under attack, and maybe what the heck was going on – that learning the identity of the “defector from within” almost (kind of) felt like an after-thought.