Author: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings
Edition: ARC paperback
Publication date: January 16th 2018
Read: 16th October – 24th October
Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.
But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder‘s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.
Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their ship or just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.
I was lucky enough to get an ARC at YALC (or so I thought), but I was apprehensive about starting it after reading negative reviews from bloggers with similar reading tastes to me.
And I was right to be apprehensive. This book is disappointing in so many ways. The plot is both too simple and too staccato, and any clear, definitive progress that the authors tried to build is marred by random events and tangents that don’t add anything to the sub-plots. On top of that, it’s just boring. The main plot, following the central protagonists, is bearable, but Queen Nor’s sub-plot is so mundane I found myself skipping whole pages at a time. And I never do that. There was no pace or dynamism, and the main story had no discernible threads running throughout; instead ideas and events were just dropped in at random.
‘But Kate’, you’re probably asking, ‘maybe the characters were the saving grace?’ Nope. None of the characters are exciting or unique and it felt as though the authors had tried too hard to make the protagonist, Andi, a likable killer-with-a-conscience. (They’ve been reading too much SJM.) Instead of her coming across as empowered yet relatable, she comes across as a pale (literally, she’s so white) and insipid version of other better characters I’ve read.
The three other female characters, Lira, Breck, and Gilly, are no better, offering bland one-liners and meager personalities. They’re obviously meant to be a four-part daring girl gang, who race through the stars committing crimes, but this gets lost among all the poor writing and plotting. What was intended as an all-women version of the Firefly crew ends up being an anemic, watered-down melodrama.
The crux of the character problem is that the narrative spends more time telling us their personality traits and attributes than demonstrating them. This pretty much obliterates any believability and empathy that might have been built up. There are also contradictions aplenty; Andi is described as being a ruthless killer, but we hardly see her kill anyone. Nor is described as being willful and driven, but she seems to wilt into his arms every time she’s with Zahn.
As well as contradictions, there are too many questions left unanswered. We’re told that Breck doesn’t know where she comes from, but her origin story is never developed. We don’t find out how Dex managed to survive his fight with Andi. We’re never told why Andi’s swords randomly channel electricity when no-one else’s do (and also how that’s even possible). I could go on but I’ll spare everyone.
By far the worst part of the book is the writing. The dull plot and one-dimensional characters are almost entirely the fault of cliched and clunky writing. In places, the prose is stilted, with punchy one-liners falling flat and scenes feeling unfinished. There are times when it seems as though a paragraph has been cut and not replaced with anything else to smooth over the gaps. I found myself questioning on multiple occasions whether book this had been through multiple rounds of edits (sorry editors) and I honestly hope the final edition gets more revisions before it goes to print.
I also had issues with the lack of diversity in this novel. For a story about space, different planets, and different races, an overwhelming number of the characters were white. Dex is the only notable POC character and his race is only mentioned once and never discussed again, whereas we’re constantly told that Andi is ‘pale’ and ‘fair’. This troubles me since the book is written by two white women. There were also no LGBTQIA+ characters or relationships which I quite frankly found unbelieveable. You’re not telling me that in the whole of the galaxy, everyone is straight. No way. Not buying it.
On the whole, Zenith feels like a flat, uninspiring adventure that’s constantly hindered by poor writing. I don’t tend to DNF books but if I did I would have DNF’ed this one. If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced, clever sci-fi novel… Zenith is not it. I’d recommend reading Invictus by Ryan Graudin instead, as it’s got far more charm and diversity.