Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

zeroes

Favourite quotes

“Her parents didn’t understand that braille meant big clunky books that marked you as different, while audiobooks lived invisibly on your phone and text-to-speech gave you the whole damn internet”.

“It was a seriously dick move on the part of the universe: of everyone in this room, only he could see all those glimmers of awareness, feel them in his gut and as electricity on his skin. But the glimmers never found him in return, not in any group bigger than a half dozen people. That was what made him Anonymous”.

“She was the sunbeam – she was the sun, the source! She was full to bursting with post-crash power. She could see everything, feel everything, hold everything up forever if she wanted, let go anything she chose. Mega- or nanosized, she was master of it. She was a freaking Zero, man!”

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ethan’s Voice has landed him in trouble – again. All he really wanted was a ride home and what he got is all hell breaking loose. The Voice is a literal scammer – hence Ethan’s superhero nickname Scam. Well, actually it’s his Zero nickname.

What is a Zero, you ask? The Glorious Leader, a.k.a. Bellwether, a.k.a. Nate, chose the name “Zeroes” for a group of five teenagers who have superpowers. Except they aren’t your regular superpowers. Oh, they are cool and all, but they are also super lame. No laser eyes, no flying, no super-strength. These kids aren’t the Jessica Jones’ or Luke Cages of this world. They are just teens born in 2000 in Cambria, California. Last summer, the group fell apart, thanks to Ethan’s Voice, and now that the Voice has gotten him in trouble, the Zeroes have to reluctantly reunite to get him out of it. But can they work together again? And is there room for a sixth Zero whom Ethan’s Voice also gets in trouble during a bank robbery?

 

“Zeroes”. Starring:

Nate, a.k.a. The Glorious Leader a.k.a. Bellwether.

“He could see the shimmers of human interaction in the air. But his power was the reverse of Thibault’s – he could amp those connections stronger, especially at a crowded table. He took the joy of a big group eating good food after a successful mission and focused it, until it felt like he was the only other person in the world, shining his glorious light on you”.

This guy has the power of control. He is, quite literally, a control freak. He is able to focus the energy of a crowd on a particular subject (usually himself) and to manipulate it any way he chooses. He can make a crowd follow him, manipulate their emotions however he likes and make them believe what he wants them to believe. Advantages – he would make an awesome politician. Disadvantages – the power makes him kind of an asshole. At times, reading from his P.O.V. and even from other P.O.V.s about him made me quite uncomfortable. In fact, his power strongly reminded me of Kilgrave (Marvel), and the fact that Nate is just a sixteen-year-old kid made the effect even stronger. He is definitely an unreliable narrator and his motivations are quite unclear at times, both to the other characters and to the reader. It is quite obvious why he became the leader of the group, not least due to his power and charisma, but it is very unsettling to learn that he has a file on every member. On the one hand, he knows as much as the reader does about the ‘verse and why they have superpowers, so it’s understandable why he would want to learn more. On the other hand, however, it’s scary to think about what he could do with the information gathered and his power that can control the emotions of every other Zero. “Every power has a price” is a tagline of “Zeroes” and I feel that it is going to apply to all the Zeroes, but Nate the most.

 

Riley, a.k.a. Flicker.

“It took a while, even in the silence. But eventually her ears found the sound – someone breathing, soft and even. Someone she couldn’t throw her vision into, not even to find the sparkling rodes and cones of darkness”.

Flicker is a blind girl whose power is to see through other people’s eyeballs. I absolutely loved that the authors included a disabled character in the ensemble, and given her a very “unconventional” superpower. Being able to view a scene from every angle from the eyes of whomever Flicker wanted had come in handy for Zeroes during the events of the book, but it was also a dangerous power. Flicker had no control over what a person would be doing and could lose the “sight” at anytime the subject was asleep or had a bag over his head (yep, that happened on several occasions). Flicker was a lovely character who loved books and I could strongly relate to her love for fictional boyfriends – what bookworm couldn’t? Her past romance with Nate was hinted at, but I enjoyed reading about her relationship with another Zero a lot more – Nate’s superpower doesn’t bode well for relationships, I’m sure. Flicker’s P.O.V. was definitely one of the most interesting ones, and combined with her power, the effect was quite meta at times.

 

Chizara, a.k.a. Crash.

“Her reach was gigantic now, extending deep into the electronic forest of the neighbourhood around her. And she could hang on to everything, hold everything up, keep it moving. She was the world’s best juggler, juggling stars and roaring chain saws and balls of fire”.

Chizara was the character who was the most well-rounded and developed, in my opinion. Her power reminded me a little of Matthew Swift – she can crush electricity and any device or building that runs on it with the power of her mind. The internal struggle she experienced when she exercised the power at places like police stations and hospitals and went too far was shown very well in her P.O.V. The reader felt what she was feeling. Her narrative is probably one of the most emotional and engaging in the book (although I haven’t gotten to Anon yet), and there is a lot more to her character than just her superpower. The character growth she experiences does relate in many ways to the growth and development of her power, but she is probably the only Zero who doesn’t want to be a part of Nate’s group and can resist his influence. That’s probably going to lead to some more “interesting” encounters between the two in the later books in the series. All characters’ arcs are quite pivotal to the resolution of the plot, but Chizara’s arc ultimately turns out to be one of the most important ones in the end. Her struggle with her power and her fear of what it can do are explored very well, as I’ve already stated, and I can definitely see how her arc, which can traditionally be perceived as a villain’s, going to be anything but that in the later books, unlike Nate’s. The two arcs would be likely to be opposing forces at some point, and I am certainly looking forward to seeing how it would play out.

 

Ethan, a.k.a. Scam.

“The voice would get him into situations that only the voice could get him out of. Then he was stuck, listening and waiting. Letting it talk”.

Ethan’s power is not like the others’. His Voice knows the truth about other people and tells them exactly what they need to hear in order to serve Ethan’s interests. It works best in one-on-one interactions, whereas other Zeroes work best in a crowd. The Voice started speaking before Ethan himself could speak, which obviously resulted in a lot of issues. Ethan has the weakest control over his power out of all the Zeroes, and his Voice has gotten him in trouble a lot more than it helped him. The Voice tore Zeroes apart and brought them back together, albeit very reluctantly. The book starts with Ethan’s arc and the unfolding events that involve everyone else are majorly about him, but it never feels as though he is the main character, which was one of my favourite things about “Zeroes”. Having Ethan as the protagonist would be awful – he is a very whiny narrator and takes “doesn’t think before he speaks” to a whole different level. Despite his compelling backstory, he was the least interesting character of this installment.

 

Kelsie, a.k.a. Mob.

“Crowds were only good when they shared something. When they were united by a purpose or a beat. Then she could slip inside, be part of that something more”.

Kelsie is the newest Zero, and her power is somewhat similar to Nate’s except she moulds a crowd to feel and experience what she wants them to, make them feel better and more alive. Her backstory, unlike that of other Zeroes, has little to do with her power and a lot more to do with what she’s like as a character. Her P.O.V. is compelling and I feel that we’ve gotten to know her as a human character a lot more than a superhero. Ethan inadvertently makes her a part of his story arc and his and her narratives intervine the moment the Voice yells out her name to a bank robber’s face. The bank robber happens to be Kelsie’s father who tries his best to be there for her but is up to his ears in drug-related debts. The events that unfold following the robbery are largely about Ethan’s lack of common sense and control, but they also pull Kelsie in, and needless to say, she is quite happy to find others like her. I look forward to seeing what the newest addition to the team of Zeroes would bring.

 

Thibault, a.k.a. Anon.

“Wisdom tells me I’m nothing. But love tells me I’m everything”.

I saved the best, and the saddest, for last. Anon’s power is literally that – he is Anonymous. He is forgotten as soon as he’s out of sight. Forgotten by everybody. Including his family. Including his friends. Including hospital staff. Thibault “Teebo” is not invisible, but he might as well be. Tall, dark, handsome, smart, kind teenage boy has to survive any way he can – be it on the streets or squatting in hotel rooms and ordering room service because his family can’t remember who he is. He finally seemed to find his place in the world amongst Zeroes, but even they constantly forget that he exists. Nate’s file on him is the biggest one Nate has – Bellwether is clearly obsessed with Anon’s powers and the relationship between the two is definitely something that should be explored. His relationships with other characters is one of the many things that makes him the most interesting Zero. Whether it’s his strange friendship with Nate, his reluctant partnership with Ethan and Kelsie or his romance with Flicker, the interactions are wonderful to read about, and at times, heartbreaking. I absolutely loved how Flicker’s love for books and fictional boyfriends lead her and her sister to create a story of “a boy called Nothing” in order to re-create the few memories of Thibault that she managed to hold on to, and eventually to fall in love with the real boy called Nothing, who was really Everything. This is one of the few books where characters develop a relationship in a short amount of time and it is actually compelling. Relationships and interactions, were, however, just a minor faucet of what made Thibault the amazing character that he was. His backstory and ongoing arc of the book were emotional, gripping and they hurt. A lot. Thibault might be forgettable to the characters, and might believe himself to be Anonymous, but he is certainly the most memorable to the reader.

 

Out of all three authors of “Zeroes” I’ve only read one. “Afterworlds” by Scott Westerfield was one of my favourite reads of 2015, so I didn’t hesitate to request “Zeroes” when it became available on Netgalley. As you can see from the above ramblings of mine, the cast of this book is diverse, interesting and makes for some incredibly interesting interactions. Indeed, I felt that the first installment of the “Zeroes” series served more as an introduction to the ensemble cast and a chance for the reader to see how they would function in a typical action-y situation, as well as who they are and what we can expect from them in the future installments. The book was very fast-paced, bar the first couple of chapters, and sometimes it was so intense that I had to put down my e-reader and walk around for a bit. I certainly enjoyed the action, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy getting to know the characters even more. Superhero books can be a hit or a miss, and “Zeroes” was certainly a hit. There is a lot more to the book than just superhero action – the characters are incredibly well-written and fleshed out, which isn’t really that surprising given that all three authors are experienced YA writers. The cast is diverse – we have a Hispanic boy (Nate), a blind girl (Flicker), a Nigerian girl (Chizara), a French boy (Thibault) and a white boy and girl (Ethan and Kelsie). All of them come from different social backgrounds and have vastly different personalities. The P.O.V. switches were every few pages, and they were all third-person, but it was quite easy to tell who was narrating. None of them were too reliable, but each narrative was compelling and engaging in its own way. I think Chizara’s and Anon’s were my favourite story arcs, as you’ve probably gathered by now, but I’m certainly excited to see how Nate’s motivations and power would play out in his interactions with others in the future installments.

I would certainly be continuing with this series and I would love to see a TV adaptation of it. My rating is 8/10.

 

Dreamcast

Ethan (Scam) – Anton Yelchin

Kelsie (Mob) – Chloe Grace Moretz

Chizara (Crash) – Zoe Kravitz

Nate (Bellwether) – Jesus Zavala

Riley (Flicker) – Elle Fanning

Thibault (Anon) – Jeremy Kapone

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Zeroes” if you liked:

“The Affinities” by Robert Charles Wilson

“I Crawl Through It” by A.S. King

“Jessica Jones”

Have you read “Zeroes” yet? Do you agree with my dreamcast? Do let me know!

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

  1. I loved this book, it was so different from the other books I’ve read which was a nice change. I read a lot of comics so I’m used to the superhero premise but this was done in such a fantastic way. I’m glad you enjoyed it, I’ve not really seen anyone talking about this or Afterworlds, which is probably my favourite book just because it’s so different, so it’s amazing to find someone who’s read both.

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