I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Zero World by Jason M. Hough
Published by Del Rey on August 18 2015
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: Thrilling action, unexpected surprises and complex and layered characters, this is one book science fiction fans should not miss!
“This will be the most interesting mission you’ll ever forget.”
– Monique Pendleton
Jason M. Hough’s latest is going to blow sci-fi fans out of the water, as he combines assassins, a mechanically and biologically enhanced main character, a parallel planet, space travel, and more. Zero World begins with an irresistible hook and only gets better as it goes along. And what a complete package this story is: it’s got cinematic-style action scenes, plenty of technical details for the hard science fiction fans, interesting characters who all find themselves having to make difficult moral choices, a fascinating culture clash between two very similar yet completely different worlds, intrigue, spies, weapons galore, and more surprises and twists in one story than I’ve seen in a while. In short, Zero World is just the kind of book that reminds me why I keep reading, and how wonderful it is when I find a new author to love.
Peter Caswell lives on a future Earth, and is a trained assassin for the Archon Corporation. His body has been modified to enhance his senses and give him super strength and speed. He’s sent on covert missions by his “handler” Monique Pendleton, who monitors his every action and helps him navigate the dangerous assignments. The catch? An implant in the back of Caswell’s neck automatically erases all his memories of the mission, so he has no idea what he’s done. Except for one poignant detail: before the memory wipe, Peter has just enough time to leave himself a clue: he turns around beer bottles in his fridge, one for each kill, so when he wakes up, he has at least one grim reminder of what he’s done.
His latest job is to pretend to be part of the crew of a salvage mission, reclaiming the black box of a spaceship that disappeared twelve years ago and has just been found. His superiors want to know why the entire crew is dead and a scientist named Alice Vale is missing. But when Monique suddenly changes the mission, Caswell finds himself on another planet with new orders: track down and eliminate Alice Vale, who is suspected of killing her entire crew and escaping through a rip in space. When he runs into a woman named Melni, a spy from the South who has come to glean information from the Northern advancements, their lives become linked in an instant, and before you know it, Caswell and Melni are running for their lives.
And that’s just the beginning. I could go on and on about the plot, but I don’t want to give too much away. This is one story that benefits from going in blind, and I’m so glad I didn’t know much about it before I started reading. Hough paces his story just right, with escalating action scenes that had me cringing and gasping and worried every single second for the lives of the characters I grew to love. And be prepared for a high body count. After all, we’re dealing with a highly trained assassin with an implant that makes him nearly unbeatable, not to mention a very nasty futuristic weapon called a vossen gun that I’m hoping doesn’t really exist.
But Zero World is much more than just an action-packed thriller. Hough creates an interesting—and eerily familiar—political situation on the surface of the planet Gartien, with two factions, the North and the South, separated by an immense line of craters from an event called the Desolation. The North is much more advanced that the South (and I’m not going to tell you why!), and people from the South aren’t happy about it at all. Much of the tension in the story stems from this set-up, a Cold War-like scenario that felt uncomfortably close to our own world’s history.
And I loved the planet of Gartien, whose people are different in so many ways. For example, a Gartien’s internal organs are all on the opposite sides from ours, and most of the population is left-handed as opposed to right-handed. Although they speak English, many of the words are used in different ways, which makes for some awkward communication between Caswell and Melni. Most of the story takes place in the North, where the privileged Northerners live an almost quaint 50s lifestyle. Everything about Gartien is just slightly off from what Caswell is familiar with, and because he’s trying to fit in and keep his real identity a secret, there are plenty of tense moments when he almost blows his cover.
Of all the well-drawn characters, Caswell was definitely my favorite. His own life is a mystery to him, because despite all the missions he’s gone on and all the people he’s killed, he can’t remember any of it. At the end of each job, he ends up back in his apartment, knowing that three or four days of his life are now missing forever. He’s developed coping mechanisms, but those only do so much to comfort him. He knows he’s killed people because of the backwards beer bottles lined up in his fridge, but since he can’t remember killing anyone, he has no reason to feel remorse.
I loved the relationship that grew between Caswell and Melni, who are thrown together early on and spend a great deal of the story trying to keep each other alive. And don’t get the wrong idea about the word “relationship.” There is nary a hint of romance in this book, although I suspect there might be as the series progresses. What I loved most was the way they slowly begin to trust each other, two people who have little in common, except for the fact that they’re both human. Eventually they become comfortable enough with each other to joke about the fact that Melni is a planner, while Caswell flies by the seat of his pants. The understated humor was a nice change of pace from the heavier scenes.
One of the best things about Zero World was that I rarely saw what was coming next (although one big surprise in the beginning wasn’t hard to figure out.) But for the most part, the twists and turns made my head spin, they came so frequently and with such speed. Several times I thought I had things figured out, only to find out I was wrong. The story starts in one place, with one set of truths, and ends up somewhere completely different. By the end my mouth was hanging open, wondering how I’d arrived at the last page, and cursing Mr. Hough because I realized this was only the first part of the story. I often say in my reviews that I can’t wait for the next book in the series, but this time I really mean it!
If you’re ready to immerse yourself in a unique and dangerous world, where no one can be trusted and nothing feels familiar, then look no further. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.