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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Zero Sum by B. Justin Shier (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read FBC’s review of Zero Sight
Read FBC interview with B. Justin Shier
Order the Book HERE
Read an Excerpt HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Barnes & Noble)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Brian Justin Shier was born in New Jersey, grew up in Las Vegas before attending college in St. Louis. He then relocated to California wherein the medicine bug struck him and he’s now a third year medical student. He was inspired by J. A. Konrath to go the indie route and has had quite a response to his debut novel. He is currently working on the third Zero Sight novel tentatively titled Zero Tango.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: My name is Dieter Resnick. I was planning to turn eighteen in May, but I don't think I'm gonna make it. I've just been drafted into a war. And this war isn't usual. It's kinda sorta fought with spells.

Six months ago today, I was my high school's valedictorian. Now I'm Elliot College's newest combat-certified mage, and one of the few to survive a Talmax raid. I've got a weft-partner named Rei Acerba, whose hobbies include flaying the skin off her foes and perusing the sunscreen aisle. I've got a tutor named Jules Nelson, who spends her evenings talking to trees. And I've got a friend named Jay Dante, who tends to vanish when I need him most.

We're all part of a team called Lambda, and we've been ordered into the middle of a battle between North America's magical factions. The warriors of Talmax are surging up from the South. The Department of Mana Affair's once omnipotent DEA agents have been left cowering behind their wards. Our job is to reveal the enemy's secret weapon--before they take ownership of the entire West Coast!

FORMAT/INFO: Zero Sum is 450 pages long divided over three titled parts and twenty-two numbered and titled chapters. Narration is in the first-person, solely via the protagonist Dieter Resnick. Zero Sum is the second volume in the Zero Sight series and has a standalone plot and while it can be read on its own, it would be preferable to read it after Zero Sight to better understand its nuances & plot points.

November 22, 2011 marked the self publication of Zero Sum by the author. Cover design is done by Jordan Kimura.

CLASSIFICATION: Combining the maverick humor of the Dresden files by Jim Butcher with the school settings of the Harry Potter series, Brian J. Shier’s books can be summed up perfectly as Harry Dresden meets Kvothe Kingkiller with just a generous helping of the Harry Potter charm.

ANALYSIS: Brian Justin Shier’s debut was an eye opener in terms of surprises & debut books. I was truly astonished to see how well written it was and what it hinted about the saga to come ahead. Going into the sequel, I had very high expectations and was waiting to see how it would measure up against its predecessor.

The story begins almost immediately after the events of the climax of Zero Sight. However before the journey begins, we get a crucial glimpse into Dieter’s past which I believe shows how mentally strong Dieter is and how events such as the one shown will play an important role in the future events of his life. The climatic events of the previous book heavily factor in to the start of this book wherein we are introduced to more about the geo-political nature of the current power struggles in North America. Dieter’s unit, the Lambda squad gets outfitted as an attack squad due to the potential of its members. They go through a grueling but short training period wherein they are told of their objective and then broken into smaller groups and sent to Las Vegas to unsettle Talmax and its operatives.

The settings of this tale follow almost the reverse order of Dieter’s journey in the first book and this was a very cool antithesis planned by the author. As with the earlier book Dieter is the sole narrator of the story and once again the reader is regaled by his witty observations, teenage inexperience and overall die-hard nature which makes him the special fool that the readers know and love him to be. One of my points I had raised in my previous review that amongst the cast of characters present in the book, none had been featured very vividly. Well the author has nicely remedied this front as we get to know more of Rei Acerba Bathory, Jules Nelson and a few other members of the Lambda squad. Characterization as with the last book is still a strong point and in this book we get to see more of the people around Dieter and their thoughts & opinions. Some characters from the past book also make an appearance and we learn more about them but the center stage is shared by two of his close friends (Jules & Rei) and Dieter’s bonds with both of them will surely be one of the major plot points of the future books.

The infectious energy of the first book is still present and makes this read an ultra-entertaining one again. Another electrifying feature of the story is that the world is expanded as is the magic system, this particular aspect of the saga is something which is particularly mined in this book and it proclaims the epic-ness of the story rather strongly. The action and intrigue in this story have been escalated as per the direction which the plot is taking and all of this doesn’t seem forced at all. Another particular point which I though was excellent was the usage of a particular point in US-Mexico relations. The author masterfully utilizes history to lay down the entanglements of this particular story and I haven’t seen use of such history in the many urban fantasy novels read. This not only raises the reader’s interest but also raises the question as to what all events in the past will come in to play with the future of this series.

And with everything going on, this time around the climax is a powerful one with several twists to it. Not only does the author end it on a strong note but he manages a poignant one. The particular climatic events not only give us a dramatic feel but raise several questions about the main protagonist and his familial genealogy. Combined with the ending and all the revelations present in this book, Zero Sum manages to overcome reader expectation completely and one-up its predecessor in almost all categories.

With this book I had almost next to nothing to nitpick about its contents, while the last book had a rather weak ending. That situation has been remedied precisely in this book. Maybe some readers would find a few points to nag about when in the middle of the book, certain events occur which can seem like a lull however I believe they stand crucial to the plot and hence add to the strength of the story.

CONCLUSION: A remarkable story in itself and the superb sequel to one of my favorite debuts of this year and it managed to overcome all of my anticipation. Expanding the world and adding depth to the story, Brian has to be lauded for delivering a rich story without shedding its earlier uniqueness. Zero Sum continues the magical journey undertaken by Dieter and beckons the reader to come along and enjoy what is to be, an urban fantasy series to rival the best amongst the ones out so far.


Nayan said...

Your conclusion does summarize it really well...

The Reader said...

Thanks Nayan :)


Anonymous said...

I loved this book, great new author!

B. Justin Shier said...

Mihir, I have to thank you again for taking the time to review one of my books—and supporting indie movement in general by giving us a fair shake on this site.

Happy Holidays,



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