If you had a supernatural ability, what would it be?
Not what you’d like it to be, but what it would be?
The fifteen-year-olds in Zeroes didn’t get to choose their abilities. While their powers let them do things others can’t, not all the effects are easy to live with. Ethan (nicknamed Scam), for instance, has a ‘voice’ that talks its way into getting anything he wants when he lets it take over, but it doesn’t take consequences into account. This time, it ends up getting him involved with gangsters and bank robbers, and the police don’t buy his lame explanations.
Though he hasn’t spoken to them since his temper got the better of him last summer, his fellow Zeroes come to his rescue. The fallout of Scam’s interference is the discovery of a new Zero, and she wants them to help find her father.
They’ll be risking more than their group. They’ll be risking their lives.
Zeroes is a young adult novel by three well-established authors, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. It’s fast-paced action, each chapter from the perspective of one the six Zeroes characters, though all written in third person. Though each author wrote from the perspective of two characters, they blend seamlessly.
What holds the narrative together is not just the action but the relationships. All is not well among the Zeroes. They’re a diverse bunch with little in common other than their possession of a strange ability. There’s dissent, there’s friction, there’s sexual tension, all of which provide conflict and interesting places for the characters to go.
On the other hand, around half-way through the book I found myself looking for other things to read. I lost interest for a while; I didn’t feel like finishing it. This was in spite of an excellent plot with plenty of menace to keep the pages turning. It had all the right ingredients, and I really wanted to love this book.
Why wasn’t I engrossed?
After a little thought, the answer was obvious. I didn’t like the Zeroes very much. They’re interesting, complex, well thought out, and definitely flawed as all good characters should be. They’re well written. I just didn’t enjoy being with them. The suspense and ‘need to know’ were outweighed for a while by the need for space away from the characters, the way you sometimes need space away from friends who are irritating you.
If I was a newly discovered Zero they’d asked to join their group, I wouldn’t be keen. They mean well – mostly – but they’re pains in the bum. They’re a smorgasbord of self focus, arrogance, resentment and anger, and even Flicker, the mild-mannered blind girl who can see through other’s eyes, doesn’t have much compassion for her twin sister when their relationship is encroached upon by another Zero.
It was also difficult to get a clear picture of the Zero, Nathan. The others call him Glorious Leader, but it was hard for me to get a handle on the nature of his power. We know it has to do with the attention of crowds, but I found it nebulous until close to the end of the book where we get a small demonstration. His nickname, Bellwether, didn’t help. I’d heard the term but had no idea what it was. I probably should have bitten the bullet and just looked it up, but I was reading a hard copy and e-reading has made me quite lazy. (I eventually looked it up, and it made more sense of Nathan’s power.)
Overall, Zeroes has a great premise, is well-written, fast-paced with a compelling plot, and full of complex, interesting characters. Eventually I picked it backed up again and finished it. The plot brought me back and I wanted to know what happened, specifically to the new girl, Mob. I liked her the most – though she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the Zeroes superpowered shed.
Though I didn’t love Zeroes as much as I wanted to, it’s still a good book. The writing is great, and it certainly wasn’t a book I could leave unfinished indefinitely. I’ll be reading later books in the series, but the events in this one have changed its characters. Hopefully that means they’ll be less irritating.
Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, & Deborah Biancotti
Allen & Unwin
Published: September 2015