Readers of The Regional Office Is Under Attack! might rightly ask what is the Regional Office and why is it under attack?! They’re questions the book’s author, Manuel Gonzales, could not have answered when he began to write the manuscript.
“I never know what I’m writing when I start writing,” says Gonzales (The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, 2013). “The original opening [of The Regional Office Is Under Attack!] is not in the book anymore, but it was Henry picking up Rose from a detention center we don’t know anything about. He’s trying to recruit her; she smashes his foot, pushes him, and runs. As he’s chasing her, he’s thinking about how if he lets her get away from him the boys back at the Regional Office will have a big laugh at his expense—and that’s where the Regional Office came from.”
Once the mysterious concept of the Regional Office was established, “all the things I love started pouring into the book,” Gonzales says. These elements included, but were not limited to: science fiction, magic, spy capers, classic comedy—pop culture, generally—superheroes, strong female characters, à la Alias’ Sydney Bristow to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and action-movie gore. The result is the playful, propulsive, cinematic, and wonderfully warped tale of a troop of highly trained, superpowered female assassins and their rogue nemeses.
From the opening pages, the Regional Office is (just about) under attack:
Or it would be, shortly.
In ten minutes, more or less.
Rose wished it would be less.
Less would be, Christ, less would be amazing.
Mostly because Rose was ready to get this thing started, but also because she was sitting quietly on forty well-trained and slightly antsy mercs in full combat gear who were also ready. Ready to storm out of their unmarked gray vans, their fake delivery trucks, their ATM vestibules, ready to invade and then take over this plain, unremarkable office building, ready to force their way a mile belowground and into the heart of the Regional Office and wage their full assault on it. Then, soon after that, if all went according to plan, ready to level the place, make the whole thing shudder to the ground.
Metaphorically speaking, that is, what with the Regional Office already located mostly underground and all.
That’s the Rose, who—along with Henry, the recruiter—survived Gonzales’s earliest drafts. In final form, Rose is an independent female assassin leading a ground assault on the Regional Office. Typically, the superpowered assassins therein, known as Operatives, could easily crush such an insurgency; alas, they’re all away on missions, fighting the scourge of evil through space and time.
That leaves Sarah O’Hara, assistant to Regional Office cofounder Mr. Niles, in an unenviable position: the future of the Regional Office is in her hands. It so happens that one hand is more capable than the other; Sarah is possessed of a mechanical arm with the power to splinter bones.
If only she had known that the Regional Office was already under attack, had been under attack, in one subtle way or another, for the past two years…but she didn’t know, wouldn’t know until too late. Not too late to save the Regional Office, which, let’s face it, was done for, at least the way Mr. Niles and Oyemi had envisioned it. But too late to save herself.
And way too late to save Mr. Niles.
The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is told primarily from the alternating viewpoints of foes Rose and Sarah. The narrators originally numbered four, Gonzales says, but the men—Henry and Mr. Niles—were ultimately slashed. Though he’s delighted that readers may perceive a feminist tinge, the decision had less to do with gender equality and more to do with the characters’ charisma.
“I come from a family of very strong women, and they have a lot of opinions and they do a lot of things, or they have done a lot of things, that are pretty magical and amazing,” he says, “but what it really came down to was Sarah and Rose were the most interesting characters... I love them, and I feel horrible about all the things that happen to them—well, to everybody in this novel.”
Spoiler alert: someone literally gets slashed in half! Others are maimed or killed outright. And the lucky few who get what they want may wish they hadn’t.
“If I did it right, and people read it the way I would hope they read it, then the [inherent] dark undercurrent will start becoming less of an undercurrent and more the current,” Gonzales says, “and you’ll realize that it’s all very tragic in the end, which is kind of my M.O.—I did that with my stories. Most of the stories in my collection start off with funny weird conceits and then, by the end, you’re like, oh, that sucks.”
Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews.