Book Review – Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which was posted on 4/18/2018 (My Channel).

I went into this book having read and watched a plethora of negative and/or rant reviews about it. I knew the general plot of the book, I knew about the trigger warning for rape, and I knew about the Spiced Rigna and how “hope is a raging asshole.” So when I cracked the spine of the library book I’d borrowed (because obviously I wasn’t going to spend money on a book people were shitting on right and left) I thought I was in for a dumpster fire. I thought I would be trudging through the book from beginning to end, rolling my eyes at the awful writing and wishing I hadn’t decided to review it for my Book Breakdown. Then, the unthinkable happened.

I… liked the book. (dun Dun DUNNN)

Not that there weren’t issues, because, I mean, yeah. There were a lot. But there was also just something about the book that got to me. That made me laugh, and get sucked in, and actually care about the characters. And that’s why I decided to give this book three-and-a-half stars instead of the two and one star reviews I’ve seen. Not because it’s a literary masterpiece, but rather because it was fun. And, critical reviewer or not, in the end I love to read because I love to have fun.

So we’re going to start off with the strengths this book had. The things that made me really enjoy it. First is the characters, which I think was one of the strongest elements in this book. With a few exceptions, each of these characters were written in a way that made me care about them. Despite her faults, the main character, Andi, ended up being a character I really enjoyed reading about. Although I’m not the biggest fan of the “assassin with a heart of gold” trope that’s been big in recent years, I do think the authors of this book pulled it off better than most. There were times where I felt she seemed to enjoy killing a little too much for someone with a guilty conscience–which I think could have been fixed by taking her love of killing and her guilty conscience and making it more of an internal conflict–but overall I had fun reading the chapters that took place in her POV. The rest of her crew were entertaining as well, and Dex, the love interest, really grew on me.

However, the shining star of this novel (pardon the space pun) was Nor, the “villain.” I’m trash for morally gray characters, especially morally gray villains, so I quickly fell in love with her chapters. Instead of immediately painting her as this irredeemably evil person, the authors made her the queen of a dying planet who’s willing to do whatever it takes to save that planet. This made her dynamic, and I found myself sympathizing with her a lot. I can’t wait to see what happens with her character throughout the rest of the series.

Another element I thought was strong was the world building of the planets Andi and her crew visited. Every time they arrived at a new planet, we got a lot of great imagery that described the flora and fauna, the terrain, the people, their customs, and more. Each planet was entertainingly different as well. I always found myself looking forward to learning more about each new location.

The final element I really enjoyed was the overall plot. It was entertaining to read and, more importantly, it made sense. There was never a moment where I thought, “Wow, this plotline sucks, I wish they’d chosen a different one.” I’ve read some reviews that claim the first half of the book feels totally separate from the second half, but I didn’t feel that way at all. In my opinion, it all flowed together nicely, making the entire arc feel smooth. Of course, there were some moments where the pacing and tension did lag, which segues us nicely into the part of the review where I talk about the not-so-great elements of this book.

At the beginning and throughout the middle of the book, the pacing and tension were actually pretty good. The pacing moved along at a steady pace, and the tension was gradually building just like it was supposed to. It was only at the end where things came to a screeching halt. Well, that’s not entirely fair. The tension did keep up fairly well all the way to the end of the book. It was mostly the pacing that really faltered, and that was because of some serious déjà vu. Without going into spoilers, what I can say is that there’s a big chunk of the novel that feels like it repeats itself. A certain series of events occurs once, and then it’s immediately followed by basically the exact same series of events. So the pacing was great throughout the first instance, but the second time around it felt like I was trudging through mud to get to the end of the book. All I could think was “I’ve seen all of this before.” It was unfortunate, because the rest of the book had been pretty dynamic!

Another thing that fell short for me was the world building. Like I said before, their descriptions of the planets and their customs were great, but there was a lot lacking in other places. My biggest complaint is that it felt like they did things strictly for the sake of it looking or sounding cool, with no real logic to justify it. For example, Andi’s spaceship, the Marauder, was made completely of impenetrable glass. This is all well and good, until the authors want us to worry about people shooting at the ship almost immediately after they tell us the glass is impenetrable. It was obvious that they wanted to have their cake and eat it by having the ship made of glass because it would look cool but also having tension with people shooting at the ship. They really wrote themselves into a corner with that one.

Also, the characteristics they gave many of the characters made no sense. Red and white striped eyes. A spiked jaw. None of these things seem like they would have evolutionary purpose–after all, the goal of every living thing is to survive, and so rarely is a characteristic purposeless. To me, it would have made more sense for these characters to have quirky characteristics that blended in with the planet they were from. People from the snow-covered planet would be covered in fur. People from the desert moon would look reptilian. Those things would make more sense.

Similarly, they had elements of “science” that could in no way ever be explained by real science. It just felt like straight up magic most of the time. For example, some characters had tattoos that traveled all over their body, but there’s no way that could ever be scientifically possible. All I could think about was the tattoos from Harry Potter that could move. Also, there were times where the world building just felt lazy, like when they took the names of normal things we have on Earth and then put a sci-fi word before or after it: Moonchew, GodstarsBiodrugs. In the end, the world building is where I feel the authors faltered the most.

The final element of this book that didn’t really hit the mark was the writing (which is unfortunate, because the writing in a book is, obviously, a pretty big deal). Sometimes, especially toward the beginning, it felt like the authors were trying too hard to make their prose literary when it very obviously isn’t a literary novel. However, later in the book it felt like they found their groove, and from then on they wrote in a very commercial style that better fit the tone of the book. My biggest qualm with the writing, though, was the excessive amount of similes. They were everywhere. The thing is, similes are great for instances where a reader might not know what a certain thing looks/feels/smells/sounds/tastes like, but they’re not meant to be used to just compare one thing to another thing at random. If I know what a chair scraping against a metal floor sounds like, I don’t need it to be compared to a wailing ghost. And I definitely don’t need things to be compared to things I don’t know at all. Like, what the hell is Spiced Rigna, and how does comparing a smile to this “Spiced Rigna” help me to envision how smooth the smile is?

Overall, though, I did have fun reading this book. As a critical reviewer, I definitely noticed a lot of the same flaws most other reviewers have, but as a reader I was able to enjoy the story all the same. It wasn’t a life-changing novel by any stretch of the imagination, but I could definitely see a casual reader enjoying the experience of reading this book. It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great. It was just good, and sometimes that’s okay.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, because Andi definitely resembles Celaena Sardothien in many ways. I’d also recommend it to fans of Twilight, because the writing styles and simple plots felt similar to me. Basically, this was your average piece of commercial YA fiction, best suited for those who are fans of average YA fiction!

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