Book Title: Zeroes (Zeroes, #01)
Author: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti
Number of pages: 560
Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “zeros” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.
(re: Goodreads @ Zeroes – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
— The superpowers in this story aren’t all otherworldly. There’s a human quality to many of their abilities that exudes a magical realism vibe
— Cultural diversity seen through a multi-POV narrative that seamlessly jumps from one voice to another in building perspective
— Limited world-building is not problematic as readers are on the same knowledge playing field as the characters themselves
— Writing is wonderfully paced; 560-pages feels easy breezy
— The romance subplot isn’t too heavy although there’s a cautionary love-v/triangle happening; there are ships you can jump aboard on
This book is incredibly fun. I will now proceed to hype this book up.
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of Zeroes from the Book Blog Ontario Meet-Up. I extend thanks to Simon Pulse for providing me with the opportunity to review this book.
All Ethan “Scam” Cooper wanted was a way home and he was ready to talk up anyone in the vicinity to help him out. But here’s the thing: the voice isn’t always his to speak. It’s his other voice—the one that knows too much and says what others want to hear—who presents Ethan a duffel bag of cash. Finders keepers, right? When he finds himself caught in the middle of a bank robbery, he’ll do whatever it takes to protect what’s his; even if that means calling up his former friends, the Zeroes.
Zeroes is set in sunny Cambria, California during the height of the 4th of July summer festivities. The seaside metropolis is aesthetically accessible—from its pristine glass high-rises to the grungy vacancy of the other side of town—presenting a fictional urban landscape that thrives off the reader’s own local downtown core. Simply put: the world building is smart and aligns itself to fit any environment if you consider the [almost] magical-realism of the superpowers witnessed in the story.
The narrative screams urban fantasy with a dabbling of sci-fi even if there isn’t deep context to support the magic systems therein. While this might have been problematic in other worlds, I found this knowledge gap to be welcoming. It works because they’re actively learning the kinks of their own specialness—together—with curiosity, fully knowing that they don’t have all the answers. Exposition, for me, is necessary if history is a requirement as opposed to a fulfillment for storytelling sakes. With readers being along for the journey of experimentalism, the limited scope in setting is a success in its own right.
For many books with one narrative voice (considering superhero-fiction), it becomes easy to disregard the importance of the alternative characters; the supporters merely there to save King/Queen Protagonist. Zeroes displaces that notion by weaving in and out of a six different perspectives (one per main character); each with their own distinct and significant voice. One of the most striking aspects to the writing is when one moment is given visuals through an array of perspectives but never losing the time which continues to tick. It’s what ultimately makes this multi-POV narration seamless and effective. This is propped up by the wicked pacing making this 560-page book read like a breeze; everything is “go, go, go” and credit goes to the conflict itself.
Could the writing have been more purple-prosey? Eh, perhaps.
Would it have demonstrated greater realism if the plotting was executed with truer direct consequence? Yeah, probably.
But as far as superhero, action-thrillers go, Zeroes subverts the traditional “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra by keeping readers engaged and charmed by its diverse cast and delivers the message “every power has a price” with a one-two punch of teenage awkwardness and the troubling tomfoolery of first-experiences.
The diversity is paramount to the voice in this book. Culturally, there are Latin-Americans (Puerto Ricans, I presume), French, Nigerians, and Russians. Physiologically and mentally, there are twins, the visually impaired, and an almost-self-diagnosed-Schizophrenic, among others. It’s a book brimming with an eclectic cast and all the quirks. I appreciated the complexities in each Zero as they navigated their own emotions and baggage with the outward extroversions and blind trust they had with one another. It’s reflected in the sheer poignancy of the dialogue balanced against the teenage banter in others. I cared for these characters—some more than others—their flaws and how they balanced each other out and sought a sense of purpose; not by codenames and missions, but as friends.
My favourite character is an enigmatic boy named Thibault (alias: Anonymous) who despite being the poster child for Abercrombie and Fitch with his blue eyes and mane of a hairdo, leads a forgotten life. (Note: he’s not actually a model.) Teebo is present but not so; quickly disappearing as he is realized and able to cut the fibers that link himself to the world around him. It’s real sad, but his friendships is quite uplifting, hopeful, and represents the resilience of today’s growing compassion.
I won’t speak much to the romance other than there being both instalust/love and a potential love-V (or triangle) in the works. But what’s important is that it does not eclipse the conflict in the story.
While this story is co-authored, there’s no evident divergence in writing style to really delineate who wrote what. For me, the dialogue and often stark humour flowed, the writing was epically paced, the action never lost its momentum, and the feels were fucking unreal. It was a tight reading experience; a wild joyride and perhaps one of the better releases I’ve read in 2015. Yeah there are issues with contextual world-building but they’re avenues of future exploration.
Westerfeld, Lanagan, and Biancotti have crafted an unputdownable story that could translate well on the small stage (I’m thinking Nickelodeon) and though you might come for the urban fantasy and the superpowers, you definitely stay for the characters and the remarkable undertones of realistic fiction (or perhaps magical realism) that runs deep in this story.
Thank you, Westerlanacotti…? Bilanafeld...? for curing my half a year reading slump. This is my attempt at a ship name for this wonderful trio. I also require the sequel. Now would be nice.