Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

The Blurb On The Back:

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness: a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her fearsome glass starship the Marauder, she’s just Andi, their captain and protector.

But when a routine mission goes awry, the crew’s resilience is tested as they find themselves in a most unfamiliar place: at the mercy of a powerful bounty hunter connected to Andi’s past and a harrowing betrayal.  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers): 

Androma ‘Andi’ Racella (aka the Bloody Baroness) is the captain of the Marauder, a fast ship made from varillium (a rare, impenetrable glass) and leads the all-female crew of pilot Lira and gunners Breck and Gilly. The girls are mercenaries who do criminal jobs for the right price and who are on the run from the Patrolman who police the Mirabel Galaxy on behalf of the Unified Systems, which are under the control of General Cortas, ruler of Arcadius (Andi’s home planet).

But the Marauder’s luck is about to run out.

Dex Arez is a bounty hunter (and Andi’s ex-boyfriend) who captures the crew and delivers them to General Cortas.  Cortas and Andi have a tragic and bloody history that he’s willing to wipe clean if Andi and her crew perform a job for him.  Cortas’s son, Valen was kidnapped from Arcadius several years earlier and hasn’t been seen since.  Cortas has information that Valen is being held prisoner by Xen Petra (a rival planetary system that was heavily defeated by the Unified Systems years earlier and has been nursing a grievance ever since).  All Andi and her crew have to do is break into the impregnable prison moon of Lunamere, bust Valen out, and escape and to make sure Andi complies, Cortas sends Dex and an AI called Alfie to babysit them and make sure that nothing goes wrong …

Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings’s YA SF space opera novel (the first in a series) has some interesting ideas but is hampered by stilted characters (who seem too old for a YA book), bouncing point of views (at least 5) such that it was difficult to keep track of who was who, a tedious romance, predictable plotting and bloated over-writing such that I really didn’t enjoy it and was relieved to get to the end.

I had picked this up because I really liked the idea of an all-female crew in a YA SF and was looking forward to reading the friendship dynamics.  In the event though, Breck and Gilly are relegated to the side lines and portrayed as little more than a curmudgeonly giant and a baby-faced damaged psychopath and although more is made of Lira’s friendship with Andi, they don’t get enough page time to make this convincing while a key revelation about Lira in the second half made me roll my eyes.  I was also confused by the ages of the characters here – we’re told that Gilly is the youngest at 14 but we’re never really told how old the others are (although the implication is that they’re in their late teens, early 20s) and to be honest, they seemed too old for a YA novel like this.

Andi bored me as a main character.  She’s billed as an invincible fighter who trained to serve as Spectre (essentially a personal bodyguard) to General Cortas’s daughter, Kalee, only for Kalee to die in a tragic accident on Andi’s watch. Alsberg and Cummings hint that Andi has PTSD from the accident but it doesn’t really add the depth they seem to be looking for and nor did her guilt over all the people she kills (guilt that never actually makes her look for an alternative).  Her love-you-hate-you romance with Dex bored me to tears, mainly because their “banter” is so leaden and they’re both such self-involved jerks. I was also left utterly confused as to the origin of her nickname ‘The Bloody Baroness’ given there’s nothing to suggest she was ever a member of the nobility – it just seemed like such a random name to take.

The plot meanders from beginning to end, which is a shame because the break-in element should have been thrilling.  The pacing problems are partly down to the fact that Alsberg and Cummings jump between 5 main points of view – Andi, Dex, Lira, Klaren (whose role is obscure for the first third of the book) and Nor (the young queen of Xen Petra) – which meant that I couldn’t get close to any of the characters. However the writing itself is so bloated and purple at times that I found it very alienating – especially the repetition of descriptions (Andi is frequently described by some variant on devils and demons).  The final third tries to cram too much into it with Alsberg and Cummings pulling sudden revelations that have had no build up in the preceding text (a personal bugbear of mine) so that the supposed tension in the bleak ending and set-up for the sequel left me completely cold.

To be honest, the combination of built-up expectations and really poor writing meant that I will not be bothering with the sequel and I’m really not sure I’d check out Cummings or Alsberg’s other work on the strength of this.

ZENITH was released in the United Kingdom on 11thJanuary 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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