Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

Cas Russell has just been hired by Dawna Polk to save her sister Courtney who has somehow ended up on the wrong side of a drug cartel. Originally thinking she was just a delivery driver, she ends up hostage. Except something isn’t quite right. After getting her to safety, Cas finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy. Who is Courtney Polk exactly? And what is with this “Pithica” she keeps hearing about? Cas has an almost superhuman ability to do math and her thoughts tend to be extremely logical. But now that she’s in this mess, her thoughts might be influenced by someone else.

Zero Sum Game is an action-packed, plot-driven novel. It’s a knot of conspiracies that cannot be untangled. Once you think you’ve unraveled it, you find another knot blocking your path. And that’s why I kept reading this book. The plot is everything. It has action, mystery, intrigue…. It involves an organization with a highly grey morality — where it almost isn’t clear if they were truly good or evil. “Do the ends justify the means?” asks one character.

While the plot is, in my opinion, outstanding, the characters fall flat. They feel like pawns to the plot without their own autonomy. Cas is a mathematical wizard, able to dodge bullets just by calculating the angles in her head. But that’s pretty much all we get from her. She’s a math genius who gets annoyed easily. Then there’s Arthur, a PI who wants to help Cas take down the enigmatic Pithica. And finally, Rio, a person with possible Antisocial Personality Disorder who is an enigma in and of himself. Rio was a really interesting character. There was just enough mystery about him to make him intriguing, but also just enough information to not make him boring.

If you’re looking for conspiracies, possible mind control, and action, this is definitely the book for you. Although the characters did tend to feel a bit mediocre to me, I think the plot helps pick up the slack. One thing I can say with confidence, though, is this is one of the most unique SFF books I’ve read this year.

(I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley.)

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