Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: "Zero Sum" by B. Justin Shier

"Zero Sum" picks up where "Zero Sight" left off — literally.

At the end of "Zero Sight," Dieter Resnick and his fellow Elliot College squadmates had been briefed on the threat facing the Department of Mana Affairs. Parts of campus have been blown up, but thanks to the efforts of Dieter and Rei, the students and the faculty — which had been targeted for assassination — were saved. "Sight" opens the next morning as the students pick up the pieces and start getting ready for war. Their enemy has a name and a face, and it's up to Dieter and the rest of Lambda to infiltrate his camp in Dieter's hometown of Las Vegas. Between preparing for that, adjusting to his weft-bond with Rei and trying to defuse the growing hostility between Rei and Jules, his Irish tutor, Dieter has his hands full.

In this sequel, Shier steps away from the example set by the Harry Potter books and more fully into his own creation. Dieter and his classmates are no longer mages-in-training at magic school; they're novice mages at the front lines of a battle. The characters who were introduced in the first book are fleshed out, especially Jules, Danta and, of course, Rei. Jules in particular is given heavy focus, as she's clearly set up as a counterpoint (and counter-love interest) to Rei.

Speaking of Rei, more attention is paid to the society of vampires and its role in relation to the mages. Shier refrains from humanizing them or otherwise weakening their status as monsters, which — as previously stated — I'm enjoying. More of Rei's back story is filled in through the introduction of family members, some in person and some in passing.

The plot is mostly straightforward, but the ending featured at least two major twists. One of them, related to the book's villain, I didn't see coming, but it was logically supported in retrospect. The other, related to Dieter's family, came out of left field and left me scratching my head. I'll be interested to see how Shier explains some of the previously given back story to make that revelation work. (And, yes, I know that's obtuse, but I can't be more clear without ruining the twist.)

You could read this book first and not be too lost, but reading "Zero Sight" before "Zero Sum" will make the twists more surprising and the cliffhanger ending more emotionally charged.

On his website, Shier says he's working on a third entry in the series. I'm looking forward to it.

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