Review: Zero World by Jason M. Hough

Zero World

I didn’t actually read the synopsis of Zero World when I requested a copy for review. I had enjoyed Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth series so much, I figured I’d like anything he wrote. I also hoped this would continue that story. I was wrong on one account and right on the other. Zero World introduces a new story and universe, but it’s just as compelling as Hough’s previous novels.

Peter Caswell is an assassin. He has a switch in his head, that when flipped, allows him to act almost without conscience, knowing that when he completes his assignment, he will be reset, forgetting any atrocities he may have committed. He begins each job as a rookie – remembering only his training and whatever skills he acquires in between.

His latest assignment will be the most interesting one he will ever forget. A lost spaceship has been found. He is sent to investigate and discovers it is full of bodies. But one crew member is missing, as is a landing pod. Caswell’s switch is flipped and he’s sent after her. In a second lander, he follows a preprogrammed course through a wormhole. On the other side he discovers a planet that looks just like Earth – except for the huge scar of craters across the middle. This duplicate planet only looks like Earth, however. Their culture is heavily influenced by this cratered scar which divides the continents into North and South. They speak English, but with market differences. They dress differently, and he cannot stomach any of their food.

Tracking his quarry in this alien landscape is already a test of Caswell’s skill and adaptability. He also has a time limit. He will reset in just fourteen days, six of which will be required for the journey back through the wormhole. If he forgets why he’s there, he may never get home.

This book is divided into four parts. I devoured the first part. Futuristic assassins equipped with techy gadgets set upon intergalactic mysteries? Sign me up. The second part was a little tougher to read. Hough introduces his second principle lead, another spy named Melni Tavan. I liked Melni and through her, formed an appreciation for the thought the author had put into creating the duplicate earth. Everything was just off. A different culture, a different social norm. For instance, women are dominant and men usually wear their hair long. It was like reading a book with 3D glasses. The focus was a little weird.

Eventually, Melni and Caswell run into one another, complicating their respective missions. Then, in the third part, THINGS HAPPEN. The truth of it all is revealed and it’s pretty cool. In the fourth part, Caswell reverts, forgetting everything, and he has to rely on Melni to complete his mission. What he doesn’t realise is that his mission parameters have changed.

Overall, I enjoyed Zero World. It was new and different. Caswell and Melni were extremely likeable characters. I did wonder when Melni was going to properly react to all the killing, but I did enjoy her propensity toward planning. A woman after my own heart. Caswell’s situation came with a lot of build in sympathy, and when he discovered the truth, I was fully invested in how he’d overcome the lie of his existence.

My one issue with Zero World would be with the overwhelming number of action scenes. The book is exciting in that Caswell and Melni are constantly running for their lives. But not a lot of plot elements hinge on these sequences. I got a little bored reading fight scene after fight scene, particularly as the plot is actually fairly simple. The magic lies in the big reveal, which could have come a little sooner, I think.

Still, it’s an entertaining read that introduces a diverse new universe, and while Zero World does work as a standalone novel, there is a lot of story left to tell.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

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