Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings
3.75 out of 5 Stars
*Thank you to Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss + for providing a DRC for me to read!*
The first in what will hopefully be a very successful space series, Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings, has great promise and potential to it while the finer details and minutia to the story and writing are the only things that deter from this being a great novel.
Following the story of Androma Racella and her gang of fellow space pirates, Zenith is a space opera heist where the protagonist finds herself needing to complete a job to save a man from her past from a notorious prison. Helping her though are not just her fellow hand-picked shipmates, but Dex, an unwelcome fellow outlaw that she had worked with in her past. The plot keeps moving, the characters play off each other, and the world is a beautiful imagination drawn on page.
The plot, while not being wholly original, was captivating and engaging for the reader. The drawback though was that it seemed to take too many pages for the events of the story to unfold. Part of this is due to having so many points of view, which in and of itself had a couple more drawbacks to it that will be addressed later. But because there were so many characters getting page time, the story dragged in a few areas, making the parts that were moving at a good pace seem almost like they were going to fast. The juxtaposition of these slow moments with the well paced ones was a bit jarring- the equivalent of a reader's whiplash.
That being said though, the arch of the story is captivating and thought out. It also seems like there were moments that are meant only to set up for the next book and/or the rest of the series. This, while doing it's job, did not necessarily fit in with the rest of the book. I'd be curious to know as to how that decision was made because these set-up details were brought to us in additional points of view and did not contribute to the rest of the story in this book. My question then is just why now in this book and not later in the next?
This is the area where my biggest issues with the book lie, but that is also partially because I love reading for the characters. It just seemed like overall there was not a thorough enough development of any one character and that made some of the lines overly cliche and standoffish to read.
Androma: It is very clear from page one that Androma is not a character that will take crap from anyone or anything. As amazing as it is to see this- because these are my favorite types of characters- I don't know if it was executed as well as it could have been. There was a lot of just straight-up saying what the characters were like instead of showing these skills and attributes, which made it a bit less believable and even slightly annoying. A bit more showing instead of telling could do this character good I think.
Dex: Dex may be the most well developed character of the entire novel. He was one of the main perspectives that the reader gets while reading and, unlike the Baroness, his characterization is mostly done through his actions instead of a narrative description. Him as a person I don't know if I would particularly like him: there's enough there for me to distrust him, but there's also enough there for me to ship him with Andi..... he's a good character.... I like his character.
Nor: I'm assuming that Nor is going to be an important character for the rest of the series; but again, I feel like her characterization was not where it could have been so I am not sure. Based on the end of the novel with her role in the experimentation, she is the character for the readers to hate. There are some mixed signals though coming from what I believe to be her background story, but if that is the case, the connection is not super clear. It does complicate her character though which makes it harder to hate her.
The gang: Same issue as Androma: there was so much textual characterization of "we are badasses" and not as much showing to support this claim. I do like the consistency in their dynamic though and their loyalty to the ship and Andi. They're their own little family and it was really cool to see that.
Valen: Of all the characters in the book, he is by far the most intriguing to me. He is almost all action and dialogue based characterization, which was so lovely and made him so realistic. The killer though is that he wasn't there as much! Granted, I think that if he was in the narrative more often it would have not been nearly as good as it is now. But I am really looking forward to seeing him in the next book and finding out more about him as a person and what is wrong with him.
The world that Lindsay and Sasha have created is extraordinary. There is a beautiful map to accompany the story and it shows just how much detail and effort went into the creation of this solar system and the world of the novel. The pieces all fit together really nicely as well. What I think was done the bets though was the history of the planets' interactions sprinkled throughout the story, explaining what needed to be explained, but without making it a history lesson.
The writing of the book itself is tricky. I know that the two of them switched back and forth while writing, and some author duos pull it off really well, but I could tell when the writer switched. With the way that this story is laid out, I do not think you were supposed to be able to tell that. I can only imagine how immensely difficult it is to synthetically have two people writing on the same story, but it did distract me at times.
Zenith, while not being the most well constructed book of the year, definitely has it merits and I will continue to read it to find out what happens to the characters and larger plot of the book. The best thing about this book I think is that it has something for nearly every reader. Even those who do not normally find enjoyment in the "science fiction" genre or with "space" books will be able to find enjoyment in the story.
Thanks for reading!
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: Book by Two Authors
p.s. I was looking at the copy in a store the other day, and I'm not entirely sure I read this whole thing/ I had the whole thing in my DRC, so I will definitely be rereading this and comparing! :) When? TBD