Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

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Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A large undertaking, if not quite the most lively imaginable, this series opener with six extraordinary teens is just enough of a return to form for the first-named author, and a fine calling card for the others.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781471124891

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Meet Ethan. He's an average teenager, in that his mouth is very quick to get him in trouble. He's beyond average though, when you consider this is a superpower of a kind, that allows him to know what he shouldn’t know, speak what shouldn't be said – anything to get you to hear what you need to hear, and to get him five minutes along the course of life. Even if ten minutes later he's much further up the proverbial creek. Until last year he was a Zero – there was a gang of teenagers with weird and unusual powers. The 'boss' has a charisma; one girl is receptive to all electronic fields and communication, and therefore can stop them at will; a blind girl can see through borrowing the field of vision of anyone she can focus her mind on. Oh and there might be a fifth one, but it's a little hard to tell. Anyway, in a contrived fashion Ethan will end up with criminal loot, and try and calmly deposit it when more criminals turn up to rob the bank. Cue Ethan, and his ability to verbally deliver the unexpected, and start a heck of a lot of drama…

Three whole books of it, if the authors get their way. And this book is already large, at 550pp in my proof – epically large, as Scott Westerfeld books normally deserve to be, even when he's writing alone. Last time round found him trying to write two books at the same time and both were weak, so the jury needed a long time to deliberate this evidence. But it comes out in favour. While some times the elements have been done before, such as teenagers discovering the curse of their abilities and therefore failing to act cooperatively, here the powers effect everything – the way they think, the way they 'work' as heroes, and especially how they see each other, and it's important and pleasing to note that this is written very well.

You might think there would be a formulaic approach, especially when all the 80-odd chapters are named after their relevant main character – that we would get the similar beats for, and a boring balance of, all the leads. This is not so. Lanagan has blogged that the three had two characters each (more of which in a moment) and concentrated on them, before everyone shoehorned everything on to the page. Thankfully there's no attempt at equal balance between them all for the detriment of the work, and even with that approach there's little in the way of woolliness evident. I know it sometimes feels like it might be lighter in the hand, but little feels like it's worthy of cropping.

There still is a slightly languorous pace to proceedings at times, however, even if some of the talky, relationship bits move really quickly. I think it comes down to the plotting – the whole way the drama escalates from Ethan trying to cadge a lift home into him being rich with drugs money, then needing a deposit box, then getting nearly shot at, mostly watched over by another character, Kelsie – is highly contrived, and the two sides of baddies need to not overlap as they do. Characters are always falling over people they're connected to, and even the powers begin to get too close to each other by the end.

That said, this is a big step up from the previous Westerfeld book, even if nothing will match his Uglies series. In the past he's had everything – empowered females, flight wish-fulfilment, and a heck of a way to bring hard sci-fi to a young audience. Here a little universality is to be had with an African immigrant heroine, but we get copious lessons about NOT wishing for super-skills of our own. That 'back off, this is serious' attitude may be welcomed as more mature by some, or thought of as less inclusive by others such as I, but it's there. More importantly, so is this book – and while I don't see nearly as many people falling in love with it as they have with his books of old (and I'm sorry to know nothing about those of his collaborators), many people will see enough merit in coming back for the rest, as the intention is for it to get published worldwide in consecutive Septembers.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Timebomb by Scott K Andrews is an example of an adult-geared novel this audience could get on with, featuring time-travelling teens in peril.

Buy Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti at Amazon.com.


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