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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: "Zero Sight" by B. Justin Shier

"Zero Sight" will inevitably draw comparisons to Harry Potter and, to a lesser extent, Twilight. Like Harry Potter, it's a story of a boy from an unhappy home who goes away to school to be trained in the working of magic. Like Twilight, it's a story about two young adults who find themselves drawn to each other — except one of them is a vampire.

Whether those similarities make "Zero Sight" more or less appealing will likely depend on how you felt about Potter and Twilight. For the record, I enjoyed the Harry Potter series, I didn't make it past the first Twilight book, and I really liked this book.

In "Zero Sight," we're introduced to Dieter Resnick, a high school senior (and, unbeknownst to him, a latent mage) who's driven to get out of Las Vegas and away from his abusive drunk of a father. He's pinned his hopes for the future on college, so when he gets an offer from the elite Elliot College, Dieter's moving to Connecticut. On his way, he meets with Rei, a strange but beautiful young woman who winds up saving his life — and who turns out to be both a vampire and a classmate of his. The two of them will have their hands full, dealing with attacks on their college by a mysterious group of counter-mages. It's a good thing they've formed a bond.

Dieter struggles with his attraction to Rei. She's beautiful, yes, but she's a vampire. To Dieter's credit, he's disgusted by her nature, and he has a hard time reconciling his feelings toward her with the fact that she drinks human blood. She suffers no conflicts about her nature, though, and it's refreshing, after the recent trend of vampires-as-tortured-sex-symbols-with-special-dietary-

"It's just weird. Here we are, talking normally, but I'd have expected your kind to be amoral killing machines. Lestat-style, you know?"

Rei cocked her head and the blue faded from her eyes. "That would be a very healthy assumption to make." She gazed into me, and my heartbeat started to race in reply. Rei's face had changed. The softness was gone. It looked like it was etched out of marble rather than flesh. She was cold. Lifeless. The voice that leaked out of her lips was devoid of humanity. The melodic timber was gone, replaced by that silky hiss. I could hardly draw breath, and an unreasonable terror clamped down on my body. An ancient part of my brain yelled shrilly: That predator. You prey. Back the fuck off.

"Zero Sight" is an excellent start to a series. The writing is good, and though the book could use another read-through by a proof reader, the occasional errors weren't glaring enough to detract from the reading. The secondary characters are just getting fleshed out by the end of the book, as is the system of magic, but both promise to be handled well in future entries.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, and I bought the sequel right away. Guess what's coming next week.