Zero Sum Game by SL Huang


Way back when I was a high school senior, my U.S. Government teacher raved about this book, The Bourne Identity, so much so that when I had a chance, I picked up a copy. What hooked me on this action/thriller classic is the premise. The story opens with the main character’s bullet-ridden body being fished out of the Mediterranean Sea. He’s lost his memory and identity. All signs point to his identity being that of the notorious terrorist Carlos, the Jackal. Bourne Identity was a page turner and kind of set the bar for me as far as action/adventure type books go. Until I read Zero Sum Game by SL Huang. The hook: A mathematical super genius whose math skills enable her to think and see math, measuring distances and angles, using calculus, geometry, and other mathy type calculations to measure with utmost precision. Cas Russell is an extractor/assassin/weapons specialist, and because of her unique skill set, she never misses her target.

When Russell’s hired to perform an extraction, she becomes drawn into a deep mystery involving a hidden organization that uses mind control (telepaths), and whose goal, basically, is world control. Russell is an interesting character. A mercenary, anti-social, almost anti-hero, I found myself rooting for her despite her prickly nature, which is a tough balance for a writer. How do you create a character that’s not necessarily a “good” person and not turn off the reader? It’s a difficult balance, and one that SL Huang pulls off neatly. I enjoyed that I couldn’t foretell the plot but had to read to the next page, and the next. As Russell tells her story, the action is revealed to the reader as she figures things out. This is how a good story is told, and I appreciate that Huang trusted her audience and didn’t spell everything out.

Russell’s character develops as the story does, and by the end,
the reader knows there’s more to be revealed about her and her long-hidden past.

Russell’s character develops as the story does, and by the end, the reader knows there’s more to be revealed about her and her long-hidden past. The other characters were also compelling and well developed. I wanted to learn more about the enigmatic avenging angel Rio--the only human alive Cas trusts but “not her friend.” Rio’s opposite, private eye Alfred, a streetwise but ethical man, questions Russell and becomes sort of a moral compass. He helps to bring out her humanity. Some of the most fascinating passages involved the characters and their interplay with each other as they discussed philosophy, morality, and situational ethics--a cool juxtaposition to them blasting their way out of situations.

Is a math degree necessary to enjoy Zero Sum Game? Hahahaha. I’m practically math phobic. I can still remember my bookkeeping teacher chewing me out, calling me a quitter when I dropped his class. “Oh, you’re a quitter, huh?” (Jerk.) The number-filled ledgers made me all nervous and confuzzled. So, no, you do not need to have superior math skills. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

In full disclosure, I know SL Huang. We hang out on the best site for writers on the Internet: Absolute Write’s Water Cooler. I’m thrilled for her and am fairly certain she’s going places as a writer. Big places. And for some inexplicable reason, I feel so proud of her, almost like a mother--even though I had absolutely nothing to do with her book. (What could I have told her? “Uh, put more math in”?)

Check out Zero Sum Game. If the book description doesn’t hook you, then you’d better check your pulse. (I’m hoping to con SL Huang into giving me an advanced reader copy of book 2 in her Russell’s Attic series, Half Life, so I can get my fix early!)

As far as she knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower...

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good.

The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight. She can take any job for the right price and shoot anyone who gets in her way.

As far as she knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower . . . but then Cas discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Someone who’s already warped Cas’s thoughts once before, with her none the wiser.

Cas should run. Going up against a psychic with a god complex isn’t exactly a rational move, and saving the world from a power-hungry telepath isn’t her responsibility. But she isn’t about to let anyone get away with violating her brain — and besides, she’s got a small arsenal and some deadly mathematics on her side. There’s only one problem . . .

She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

SL Huang's novel is available now from…


Barnes & Noble


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