Book Review – ‘Swarm’ (#2 Zeroes) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

The Breakfast Club meets X-Men.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 448

They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes.

These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers, and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground.

But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister.

Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him.

Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

A bunch of teens with superpowers trying to keep their secret and do good in the world. Sounds altruistic and tropey, but in ‘Swarm’ it works. There are so many interesting characters with well-developed backgrounds and even more intriguing abilities – the world of the Zeroes is a delight. ‘Swarm’ definitely ups the level of difficulty faced by our group of wannabe heroes from the debut. The tapestry of obstacles they need to overcome is truly masterful.

The biggest drawbacks for me though is partly because there were so many characters, the pacing suffered. So many short chapters following a different narrative and it took half the book for anything really interesting to happen. I remember listening to the audiobook of ‘Zeroes’ on a road trip and not noticing the pacing as an issue because of the voice characterisation; but in written form it becomes more prominent. The shorter chapters make you feel like you are zooming through the book, but when you look at the structure of the story, the inciting incident does not take place until the middle of the novel. Following 6 protagonists is awkward, and the narrative is constantly mixing their original names and superhero names. I kept having to mentally check myself to remember who was who. Maybe you’d have less difficulty in listening to the audiobook. And I could definitely see this format playing out better on screen. But for a YA novel, it was a little clunky at times.

The worst aside, the imagination behind the abilities of these teens is wonderfully creative and sets it apart from the usual slew of powers we usually get in this genre. I would have liked to see some more separation in voice between the chapters following the different protagonists, and with three authors this is definitely possible, but it read very monotone in the sense of voice with the narrative writing style.

The particulars of the plot are very unique and engaging, but the main structure of the story is tried and true. I didn’t get many surprises, no unexpected twists that I did not see coming. There was one reveal that was particularly masterful. I just think maybe that I felt the story was slightly undercooked. ‘Zeroes’ ended on a strong note of ‘tune in tomorrow for the continuing story…’ Where ‘Swarm’ had a more traditional – if somewhat abrupt- ending. Still I want to pick up the last book in this trilogy ‘Nexus’ in hopes to get more information in the mythology, origins of their abilities, and a better rounding off for the universe and characters storylines.

If anything, ‘Swarm’ did not suffer the middle book syndrome. It was a great encapsulated story for the franchise, drove the plot forward, showed character development, and solved enough plot points to satisfy me as a reader. A commendable effort and great read I’d happily recommend.

Overall feeling: Commendable darling!

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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