Book Review – ‘Zero Sum Game’ by SL Huang

Title: Zero Sum Game
Author: SL Huang
Genre: Thriller, Sci-Fi
Date of Publication: 2nd October, 2018
Word/Page Count: 336 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Cas Russell is the geek’s Jack Reacher… ZERO SUM GAME is a smart, accessible sf thriller with blockbuster appeal.

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.

I originally gave up on this maybe a quarter of the way through, but as I had requested a copy for review on Netgalley, I felt guilty about abandoning it and decided to return and try to power through. It ended up being a really fun read and a couple of the issues I had at the start turned out to have plot-related explanations, so color me shocked and intrigued!

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If you’re struggling with Courtney and Dawna Polk, give the book a chance. I found them completely irritating and a waste of page space, but as the story continued, the author redeemed their characters. But if you’re wondering whether Cas’s math abilities ever become more realistic instead of largely coming off as magic, well, that part doesn’t improve. I enjoy fantasy, so magic isn’t a problem for me, but it’s a little disappointing that the book tries to ground her extraordinary abilities in something down-to-earth like being a math savant, but doesn’t commit to it. I just ignored that and chose to see Cas as having superhero powers which made a lot more sense.

I enjoyed Cas, the anti-hero protagonist, because I’m always looking for morally grey female characters who are allowed to be arrogant and borderline sociopathic without being punished for it (there’s no shortage of male protagonists who are celebrated for this very archetype). If that appeals to you, then definitely pick up ‘Zero Sum Game’ because Cas is delightfully cynical and snarky and quite an entertaining jerk at many points. Her casual acts of violence won’t be for everyone, but I thought it was interesting to see a woman who did a lot of harm for the greater good, which we don’t get very often.

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Cas starts out with the psychopath Rio as her only ally, and by about the mid-point of the book, we’re introduced to a private investigator and a hacker who also (reluctantly) join forces with Cas, and this really lifted the enjoyment factor as we had different viewpoints and ethical dilemmas tossed around instead of Cas just bulldozing her way through every situation. The team dynamic was a highlight of the story for me and again made me glad that I picked this up and gave it another go.

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Personal Rating: 3 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed a digital copy free from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

4 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Zero Sum Game’ by SL Huang

    • it’s happened to me a couple times! most notably with Geekerella which I found HORRENDOUS in the first chapter, then went back to it because I felt obligated to review it and then I loved it by the end! unexpected surprises are awesome 😀

      some of the world-building doesn’t work for me with Zero Sum Game, but I enjoyed it enough I’ve picked up the sequel!

      Like

    • aww, thanks! as much as I love cats, it made sense to use a kitty rating! and yes, I wasn’t in love with the book by any means, but then I got really hooked on it, and now I have the sequel, so it’s sunk its hooks in me!

      Like

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