The Athena Protocol by Shamim Sarif

Review by Emily-Anne Mikos 

HarperTeen, HarperCollins, 8 October 2019 

295 pages, hardcover $22.99 CAD, 978-0-06-284960-1 

Ages 16-18, Grades 10-12 

Young Adult, Action/Adventure, LGBTQ+ 

“Athena isn’t the government,” I say. “I quit the Program because I hated having my hands tied.” 

“You’re right about Athena,” Kit says. “We’re not elected, and we’re not legal. If we’re exposed, we all go to jail. We were on the morning news, Jessie.” 

I nod, because I know that’s true, and I feel terrible about it. Kit looks down.  

“Jessie – you’re fired.” 

I just stare at her for a moment. I actually feel my mouth open and close, like a fish.  

“You – you mean suspended?” I stammer, at last.  

But Kit shakes her head. “We’ve talked about it, and your work at Athena is over.” 

The world has wondered how the story of James Bond would change if the titular character were a woman, and the answer is in The Athena Protocol. Jessie Archer takes the stereotypical male-focused spy story and gives it a unique voice that only a woman can deliver—and it’s awesome.   

The novel follows eighteen-year-old Jessie as her decision to defend a group of trapped women gets her kicked out of the Athena Protocol, a program that funds female vigilante justice. Unable to let go of her duty to her job, Jessie decides to right her wrong and continue to help the entrapped women, going against the wishes of her former bosses, teammates, and her Athena Protocol mentor—her own mother. Jessie learns how dangerous a job can get fighting alone, and how reckless her decision becomes when her Athena family isn’t there to guide her.   

The Athena Protocol is an action novel that doesn’t hide away from its female protagonist. Jessie is emotional and angry, unable to move on from her past mistake. She is passionate about the women she helps, and feels a moral obligation to the world around her. Compared to the stereotypical cold and calculated female spy, Jessie’s compassion and empathetic personality make her the interesting protagonist we believe in throughout the novel. However, we are also not thrown off by her mistakes, like when Jessie begins to fall for Paulina, the enemy’s daughter, against her better judgement. We route for her, we feel for her, and most importantly, we understand her.  

These moments of understanding can sometimes be diluted by Jessie’s isolation. A large portion of the novel is dedicated to Jessie planning her next move, usually online or alone in her hotel room. While Jessie’s planning scenes add tension and are an important element of the spy genre, they take away time from the relationships within the book. Jessie has a strong connection with everyone in the Athena Program, however only the relationship between her mother and her partner, Hala, feel fully developed and completed. The reader could have benefitted from experiencing the full extent of Jessie’s relationships with these other women, given the female-driven nature of the story.  

This is one of those books that leaves you feeling powerful. Jessie is kick-ass and emotional, strong but compassionate. Her passion for her work and the people around her is what makes her the kind of character you need to meet. Compared to James Bond, Jessie Archer is the spy I want in my corner. 

Emily-Anne Mikos graduated from the UBC Creative Writing BFA in April 2019. She is currently getting her Masters in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin, and hopes to continue writing stories about women that don’t have saviour complexes. She has decidedly abandoned real life for Jane Austin novels and fictional worlds where bees are still thriving. #Savethebees. 

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