"I'm really good at math," I said. Too good. "That's all."
I'm not sure how many times I stopped reading this book to ask, "What did I just read?" Not because I'm too dense to comprehend the words on the pages, but Huang's work was so audacious, so confident, so imaginative that i couldn't believe it.
Cas Russell retrieves things -- all sorts of things. We don't get details, but it's safe to say that things like legalities, procedures and technicalities don't enter into her Cas' thinking. When this book opens, she's retrieving a person -- which is not typical for her, nor that easy. But Cas does it, but before she returns that person to her family, she goes the extra mile to keep the retrieved person safe (she doesn't want to have to get her again).
This ends up plunging Cas into a world of deceit, conspiracies, secret organizations, and some of the most mind-bending situations I can remember reading.
Here's what separates Cas from most of the action/suspense heroes we have today -- that line above about being good at math. She's some sort of genius -- maybe beyond that -- at math. She looks at a situation -- say, getting punched in the face -- and while the fist is coming at her, calculates things (velocity, force, angles) rapidly enough to know how to adjust herself to lessen the blow and the injury to herself minimal and how best to counter the attack in such a way to put down her opponent. The same goes for shooting someone, using a knife, jumping into a building, etc., etc. The math is everywhere -- but Huang deals with it in such a way that even an English major like myself can see it, appreciate it, and not get put off by it.
I'm not sure that makes sense. Let me try this -- I don't know if you watched the recent Luc Besson movie, Lucy, where Scarlett Johansson plays some sort of hyper-intelligent woman who is a near-unstoppable one-woman army, it's kind of like that -- but more successful. Or maybe think Bradley Cooper in Limitless, but without the pills.
Throw that kind of thing into a gritty, twisty world of damaged PI's, hackers, dubious government agencies and drug cartels -- and you've got an idea about what this book holds. It's a little SF, it's a lot of Thriller -- an action-packed winner. I don't want to talk more about it -- the characters other than Cas are fascinating. I'd be more than happy to spend more time with all of them -- there's a very mysterious figure named Rio that I really want to know a whole lot more about, but I think I prefer not knowing -- he works so well wrapped in mystery. This would've been a fantastic stand-alone, but I'm excited to see that this is listed as the first in a series. Sign me up for a handful of these right now.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book -- it all worked wonderfully. There was one thing I cracked up at (it was funny, character revealing and oh-so-original) and when I made a note about it, I noticed that I was on page 69. I've never tried the Page 69 Challenge, where you decide whether to read a new book based on reading that page first, because that just seems annoying. But if I'd tried it with Zero Sum Game, it'd have worked for me.
For a first-time novelist (especially one with a math degree), Huang delivers a fantastic, assured read that's almost sure to please. Give it a shot and you'll see why I struggled to explain why you want to read this, while thinking that you really should.
The librarian usually sends out links for each months topic. This month, her links include an article titled something like "what is urban fantasy" that only says it's a marketing category and a list of "where to start" that has more male authors than female authors. I, just, I don't know, ya'll. If I were introducing someone to UF, I'd probably talk about the use of noir tropes in contemporary fantasy settings, broken vs unbroken masquerades, and Carrie Vaughn's theory, "these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power." But, sure, here's a dude saying it's meaningless marketing and a list of mostly dudes to read.
The other big UF reader in the group is going to be out of town for this one, so I'm trying to psych myself up to deal with a room full of guys all talking about Harry Fucking Dresden.
I'm also bounding myself by recommending in-progress series or stand alone books. A few months back, one of the members asked for recommendations for completed UF series that weren't PNR, and I want to avoid repeats. Okay, he didn't say PNR, he asked for books that weren't all about vampire sex. So at least one person may have some non-Dresden. . . take a deep breathe, Saturdays, you don't want to start another fight in book club.
Whatever. I love this genre.
Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older. So far this series has 2 novels and 3 novellas and is dynamite. The protagonist is an artist who discovers her legacy includes channeling spirits into physical forms. She makes her graffiti come alive. Yeah, that's right, I talk all that shit and then start off with a book by a man.
Owl and the Japanese Circus - Kristi Charish. Action packed with an unlikable heroine, this series follows an antiquities thief and her vampire hunting cat through endless poor decisions and explosions. I adore that she isn't good with weapons and doesn't have powerful magic abilities. I just recently finished the 4th installment, and the heroine is consistently a train wreck.
Zero Sum Game (Russell's Attic) (Volume 1) - SL Huang. Fast paced, plenty of violence, and her magic power is being really good at math. Do I need to go on?
Drink, Slay, Love - Sarah Beth Durst. A teenage vampire gets stabbed by a unicorn and finds herself able to go out in daylight. Her family decides to enroll her in high school so she can lure teens back to the rest of the bloodsuckers. This is a lighthearted, almost rom-com book that is exactly as much fun as my first sentence indicates.
Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes. The protagonists are all human in this not-quite police procedural where strange murders point toward incomprehensible motives.
And I think I'll stop there. I really want to add about 10 more books. We'll see where the night leads.