S. L. Huang first self-published the Russell’s Attic series, only to have it taken up, edited, and re-issued (in a different order) as the Cas Russell series. I read the first book in this series, Zero Sum Game, in its original version, and this (now) second book in the reissued version. It’s therefore not to surprising that there are significant discontinuities between the two – and that’s with having read the first book only a few months back. It takes a few chapters to catch up with the new situation, but then it’s fairly smooth sailing. The book overall, however, is less of a success than than the first. While I’ve given each 3.5 stars, the first book leaned high, and the second leans low.
Cas is still her messy, engaging self, but in this book, she veers heavily toward Thomas Covenant territory – with a blindingly obvious path before her that she adamantly refuses to take. That intensely frustrating approach worked for Covenant because that was an essential part of his character. Here, it’s just frustrating – it feels like a clunky, heavy-handed authorial attempt to create tension, and Cas’ introspective defence of her actions just isn’t convincing. That’s compounded by an amnesia plot-line that crops up constantly, but simply isn’t interesting; it feels tired.
Cas’ mathematical abilities continue to be a little too all-powerful and magical, and some of the other plot points aren’t too credible either. What saves the book is the strong characterization. Cas is engaging, sympathetic, and interesting. But even there, the book begins to fall short. She suffers substantially from Good Guy Arrogance – doing what she likes for the greater good, ruining people’s lives left and right, and yet they all forgive her and fall over themselves to put her at the center of their lives. It’s not clear why. She’s got a superpower, and she’s interesting, but I think she’d be hell to spend very much time with.
The book skates through on the strength of its characters and second half, but frankly I’d have preferred to see the major plot line deleted, and this presented as the first half of a different book. Much of this one feels like it’s deliberately prolonging the mystery of Cas’ origins that we’re all really interested in. Maybe I should have gone back to the original version (#4 in that version of the series). Certainly, I think the self-published book 1 was stronger than this professionally published book 2. Worth reading, but not what I hoped for. Here’s hoping the (new) book 3 is more focused. I have to give Huang credit again for a really thoughtful attempt (via her website) to help readers bridge the gaps from one version of the series to another.
I received a free copy of this
book in exchange for an honest review.