Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang. ★★★1/2
Zero Sum Game is an action packed, speculative fiction thriller. Cas Russell knows there’s something different about her abilities – she’s very good at math, to the point where she sees the mathematics that underlie the everyday world. Thanks to this sixth sense, Cas can pull off amazing physical feats by almost instantaneously calculating the trajectory of bullets or the necessary angles and forces to win in a fight.
Cas Russell might have powers, but she’s more a super-powered anti-heroine than a straight out superhero. People hire her to retrieve items for them, often illegally, and she has no compunctions about killing people she sees as a threat. In Zero Sum Game, Cas is hired to retrieve a woman from a drug gang and soon finds herself in the middle of something bigger.
Something I really liked about the book was that Cas actually goes through some character development. Usually the stone cold, badass anti-heroines don’t start questioning their willingness to kill people the way Cas ends up doing. Through the course of the book, you also see Cas come to make connections with other people and start trying to trust them. This growth, combined with her awesome mathematical based powers, makes Cas one of the better anti-heroines I’ve come across.
I am really interested in finding out more about Cas’s background, since we only get hints in Zero Sum Game. Luckily, I got the feeling that future books will explore this more. Similarly, I’d like to know more about the existence of other powered people. Besides Cas’s math abilities, you don’t see any other science fiction elements until quite a ways into the novel. In all, I’d say the book owes more to the thriller genre than superhero tales.
Another plus point for me is that this is a female lead story without a romance plot. While I think there could be romance in future books, there actually wasn’t any in this one.
It’s a minor thing, but I would have liked to see Cas work with another woman. All her principal allies in this one are men, and the only other significant female characters are antagonists. Hopefully the next book will be different on this front.
All in all, I found Zero Sum Game to be a fun, action packed read that I would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a thriller for some light entertainment. I am keen to read the sequel.