I received a digital arc of Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang from NetGalley, and I was also lucky enough to get a physical arc from Tor during San Diego Comic-con. I heard some great things about this book, but it is not my usual genre so I was cautiously optimistic going into this one. Zero Sum Game reads like an action film with big reveals and shocking twists around every turn. Read on to learn more!
Click here for the Synopsis!
Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.
As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.
Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.
Kick-butt lady protagonist with a penchant for complex mathematics? Yeah, that was enough to sell me. I honestly don’t think I even read the rest of the synopsis. If you’ve ever seen the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock movies, the action scenes play out very similarly in Zero Sum Game. The MC, Cas, describes finding the perfect angle or method of disarming an opponent before doing so flawlessly. It was really cool to read in the first few chapters and drew me in right away. The action, I felt, was the best part of the book but I had some mixed feelings on character and plot.
Cas Russell is a really fascinating character. While she does have a unique gift for mathematics, it does not make her untouchable. She still suffers a lot of failures, and errors in common sense. Though some of this is the fault of the Big Bad, I did see some moments where she lacked foresight. There were twists that I figured out way before she did, which seemed odd to me given her gift for logic. That’s something I’m more willing to forgive in YA novels, but here I found it bothersome.
Cas is a bit of a loner. Though she works with a team of other people, they never really work together as a solid unit. By the end of the book, it seems like they might become closer and start to care more for each other, but in Zero Sum Game they feel really disconnected. I love found family dynamics, and I thought I might see more of that here, but it was kind of a free for all. For the most part, everyone did what Cas said and there wasn’t a lot of group problem solving going on. This did make sense for her character though.
The supporting characters were well fleshed out, though sadly the ones I liked best were featured the least. Checker and Tresting help Cas out a great deal throughout the book. They both had unique and compelling character traits. Tresting is willing to break the law to do his own work but has solid lines he believes no one should cross. Checker is a computer genius, though I couldn’t get a read on him in some ways. Early on he essentially teases Cas for being a woman, then later refutes the use of gendered stereotypes. I don’t know if this was done as a sign of character growth or not, but it was somewhat inconsistent. Which leads me to my major qualms with the book, the flaws in the plot.
The Big Bad in Zero Sum Game is ridiculously overpowered. So much so, that for most of the book you aren’t sure if any of the information you’re receiving is true or not. Personally, I find this type of storytelling hard to enjoy. I like to have some elements of truth I can glom on to, but the book kept telling me that I shouldn’t believe anything. I find this frustrating as a reader because I want to attempt to solve the mysteries in the book and when everything might be a lie it feels pointless to try. I was either figuring things out 5 chapters before they were revealed, or I had no hope of figuring it out because I didn’t have the info necessary.
I don’t think I’ll continue on with this series, though I do think subsequent books might be better. I would encourage you to give it a try if you have a love for action movies or classic spy movies. It’s a fun fast paced read, you just can’t take it too seriously. Zero Sum Game will be on shelved on 10/2/2018.