book reviews by Althea

Zero World – Jason Hough ***

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Zero World
Zero World by Jason M. Hough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sci-fi spy thriller with the feel of an action movie.

‘Zero World’ starts off strong, introducing us to Peter Caswell, a spy and assassin. To do his job, he relies on an implant which allows his handler to ‘erase’ all the memories of his missions, assuring that guilt and doubt never catch up with him. He approaches each assignment as a freshly trained, gung-ho agent, confident that he’ll never have to ask questions or face the moral consequences of his actions. All he knows is that so far, he’s killed 206 people.

It’s not a surprise to the reader that this mission might up that body count significantly. This assignment, Caswell is sent out into space to investigate a derelict spacecraft. He doesn’t find out until he’s there that his assignment is to track down the sole surviving crewmember, Alice Vale, who has somehow traveled through a ‘Conduit’ and discovered another world. Not all goes as expected, and soon Caswell finds himself having to reassess and improvise, teaming up with a local spy/agent, Melni, and getting involved with a whole new set of politics.

The book is primarily action-adventure, but it does a nice job setting out layers of plots and revelations in a way which gradually increases the scope of events and the increasing ramifications of what’s at stake.

My biggest complaint is that the worldbuilding seemed a little lazy. There was no convincing explanation beyond some brief handwaving for the strange similarities between Earth and the newly-discovered world, and the differences don’t make cultural sense [in that we never see how the society we’re shown developed in the way it did through its history]. The differences amount to a few random vocabulary words and ‘reversals’ (Long hair is ‘masculine’, women are expected to take the social lead, the discriminated-against refugees are blonde and pale.)

There’s also a character who shows up solely to give a big, long, important speech about critical background and events, before being eliminated from the book. The section feels extremely forced; like the author just couldn’t think of any other way to reveal this information to the characters.

As a whole, though, I still found the book highly entertaining. There’s room for a sequel – but it ends at a satisfying, conclusive juncture.

Many thanks to NetGalley and DelRey for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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