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.Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
Series: Zeroes #1
Published by Harper Voyager on August 18 2015
Genres: Adult, Thriller
Format: ARC, eARC
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The nitty-gritty: An action-packed techno-thriller—a bit of a departure for Wendig—that still manages to entertain, despite some over-the-top story elements.
If there’s one thing you can count on from Chuck Wendig, it’s that he’s not afraid to try out new genres. I didn’t know much about Zer0es going into it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But even though this book surprised me, I have to say it surprised me in a good way. As always, Wendig’s characters come across as multi-layered, with hints of tragic backstories that made them—at least for me—sympathetic and believable. And while I didn’t necessarily like every character, I did appreciate the fact that characterization and dialog are still two of this author’s biggest strengths.
The story, however, while great fun and extremely interesting (and dare I say, educational), wasn’t my favorite. It starts out as a techno/cyber-thriller and morphs into a weird horror story of sorts. Let’s just say when you mix young computer geeks and heavy-handed military types, the results aren’t always going to be believable.
But I’ll talk more about that later. In the meantime, here’s the set-up. The story focuses on five brilliant computer hackers from various parts of the country—Chance, DeAndre, Reagan, Aleena and Wade—who have broken one law or another and are skating just out of reach of getting caught for their crimes. One by one they are approached by someone from the government and given a choice: either go to jail, or agree to spend one year at a remote facility in the mountains called the Lodge, where they will use their vast computer hacking skills on an secret project. But once they arrive, they soon realize that the Lodge is more of a prison than jail, and just as dangerous. With a cadre of trigger happy guards watching them, the five hackers begin to wonder just what their purpose is, as they are asked to perform “pen tests”—penetrating large tech corporations’ websites to see just how accessible they are.
When the guards turn violent, Chance and his pod mates, nicknamed the “Zeroes,” begin to wonder whether any of them will get out of there alive, especially when they keep hearing about someone—or something—called “Typhon.” It’s all very mysterious, until the shit hits the fan, and the bullying guards become the least of their worries. The Zeroes will need every trick in their arsenal to survive what’s coming.
Wendig’s story is big and covers not only a lot of physical territory (from the U.S. to Iran to Russia), but is filled with a large cast of characters. If you aren’t partial to stories that jump around, you may have problems with Zer0es. I tend to like story structure like this, so it didn’t really bother me, and once things get going, all the pieces eventually come together. And I’m quite certain a lot of research went into this novel. As much as I find the computer hacking world and conspiracy theory fascinating (and terrifying!), Wendig covers so many topics that my head was spinning. But I have to applaud him for making it all seem so believable. The ins and outs of hacking into a highly secure system baffle me, and even though my right-sided brain didn’t understand everything that was going on, it certainly seemed like Chuck knew what he was talking about!
In typical Wendig fashion, the characters are all broken in one way or another, and little by little he reveals all their secrets. I started out absolutely hating Reagan, who seems to be double-crossing everyone at the Lodge and is racist to boot, but by the end of the story I couldn’t help but change my mind about her. Wendig gives her an emotional—if not entirely plausible—back-story that explains some of why she’s such a bitch to the other hackers. One of the guards, a man named Hollis Copper, who struggles with his loyalty to his employers when he realizes he’s become sympathetic to the Zeroes, unexpectedly became one of my favorite characters, as did Wade, the oldest member of the Zeroes, a sixty-something Vietnam Vet. The rest of the main characters in the pod—Chance, DeAndre, and Aleena—all felt very young to me, and at times I felt like I was reading a YA story. An obligatory “romance” blooms between Chance and the beautiful Aleena, something I really could have done without (although it certainly doesn’t overpower the story).
The story starts out relatively slowly, without much action at all until about the halfway point. Then things really rev up, and the last part of the book becomes a violent bloodbath. At times the story felt like it was all over the place, since Wendig touches on such things as drones, artificial intelligence and bio-engineering, and I had no idea where his story was headed. When we finally find out what’s really going on behind the mysterious Typhon, it was not at all what I was expecting. I would have to say the final reveal, for me at least, was somewhat of a letdown. I kept expecting to see urban fantasy elements pop up, for some reason, and when they didn’t, I was slightly disappointed.
I didn’t even realize that Zer0es is the start to a series until the very end. Wendig does a great job of tying up most of the loose ends, but leaving just a little something to make readers wonder what’s coming next. Zer0es may not be my favorite Wendig story, but I did have fun with it, and it’s always a treat to read his biting prose. If you are in the mood for an exciting techno thriller with tons of action, and you have the ability to suspend your disbelief, Zer0es is a solid choice.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.