Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti, Zeroes, Allen & Unwin, October 2015, 485pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781925266955
This is the first of a new series aimed at mid-teen readers of tense fantasy thrillers that have a touch of romance, or at least a willingness to explore relationship complications. The novel supposes that in the year 2000 some pretty incredible kids were born, and among them were a few who have super powers of an unusual kind.
The truly interesting part of this novel is its exploration of the possibility that a super power could be a disempowering disability. Ethan (‘Scam’) has a voice that knows things he really shouldn’t and couldn’t know, and uses this knowledge to manipulate others shamelessly, all in the service of getting Ethan what he thinks he wants just now. Riley (‘Flicker’) is blind but can see out of the eyes of the people around her. Thibault (‘Anon’ or ‘that guy’) is so unnoticed in a crowd that his family just left him in a hospital when he was a ten year old, so he had to learn to get by as a more-or-less forgettable presence. Chizara (‘Crash’) can melt any circuit of any device within a neighbourhood block, and she loves doing it.
By the end of the novel there are six of these teenagers trying to find a way to use their unusual powers to do good. Mostly, however, they use their powers to get each other out of the immense trouble their powers have got them into in the first place. There are drug lords, Russian thugs, mean police, bank robbers, and stolen cash all through the novel, making for some very difficult times and dangerous escapades.
The novel is fun, it is thought provoking through its feats of daring imagination, and I am sure it will follow (through future installments) these six into the even more complicated regions of late teenage and early adult years; when the escapades might just become a lot more serious with a lot more at stake. This will be a series for the reader who likes to read about clever but flawed characters in books that let the imagination find its way into some strange territory. Another big plus for the book is that the characters are complex and compelling enough to quickly come alive for the reader. For a novel written by three people, it is seamless in its tone, plotting, pacing and style. Highly recommended for 14 to 17 year olds.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy