Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Zero Sight" by B. Justin Shier (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the Book HERE
Read an Excerpt HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Barnes & Noble)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Brian Justin Shier was born in New Jersey, grew up in Las Vegas before attending college in St. Louis. He then relocated to California wherein the medicine bug struck him and he’s now a third year medical student. He was inspired by J. A. Konrath to go the indie route and this is his debut novel. He’s currently putting the finishing touches to the sequel Zero Sum.

FORMAT/INFO: Zero Sight is 350 pages long divided over three titled parts and twenty-two numbered and titled chapters. Narration is in the first-person, solely via the protagonist Dieter Resnick. Zero Sight is the first volume in the Zero Sight series.
March 28, 2011 marked the self publication of Zero Sight by the author. Cover design is done by Jordan Kimura.

CLASSIFICATION: Combining the maverick humor of the Dresden files by Jim Butcher with the fluent prose of the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, Brian J. Shier’s debut can be summed up perfectly as Harry Dresden meets Kvothe Kingkiller with just a generous helping of the Harry Potter charm.

PLOT OVERVIEW & ANALYSIS: This book wasn’t a review request and I would have missed it, had it not been for Amazon’s recommendations. Whilst I was searching for some other title, Zero Sight popped up on my screen as a book I might like, based on my previous buys and search history. Never having heard of the book or the author before hand, I looked up some of the reviews on Amazon as well as Goodreads and got myself a copy.

The book was tremendously funny, managing to capture my interest from the first few pages and had me rooting for the main character like no other. Dieter Resnick is the narrator of the story and is in fact one of the main draws of the plot. He’s a sixteen year old kid who’s street smart as well really intelligent. He knows he’s in a shitty situation but is also mature enough to ride it through and get out to a good college. He lives with his alcoholic dad in Las Vegas and while being a physical abuse victim; he doesn’t let it deter him from figuring out his life plans which mainly includes a good college education with a full scholarship. However fate has other plans as the school bully Tyrone Nelson hurts one of his friends, Dieter’s conscience will not let it slide. Things soon take a downturn and after an accident of sorts, Dieter discovers that there’s something kooky about the accident as well as his role in it.

He returns to school and is fixated upon a college with a full scholarship and things seem to be heading his way when he receives an acceptance from Elliot College with the terms he wanted. Feeling full of joy, he sets about on his bus trip from Vegas to New Haven, Connecticut wherein he has no idea what he’s about to get into. On the way he meets Rei Acerba Bathory, a strikingly beautiful female whose looks have him floored but as such stories go, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Thus begins the crazy story that is Zero Sight and one which will have more fans over the years.

I absolutely loved this debut novel as it’s very rare that you discover a book which makes the story come alive, have a great narrative voice and in spite of the obvious tropes utilized, still manages to make the reader oblivious to them. Zero Sight does all of this and then goes on to end in a way that makes you covet the next volume essentially. For me this book was a complete winner and here’s why: The story begins with a rush and Dieter manages to convey his intelligence, charm and spunk all in the very first chapter. The narrative voice is a youthful one and the energy which is abundantly presently in the main character comes across and touches the reader as well. We share his enthusiasm, feel his pain and marvel at his antics. The book’s humor quotient is one which will have readers frequently chuckling along and to add to it Dieter seems like a junior version of Harry Dresden with his geeky references and snappy monologues.

Thus by having the reader root for the protagonist, the author moves onto his next hook namely the location and the plot twists, the story opens up in Las Vegas, then through a bus journey moves cross country and ends in Elliott College, New Haven. The story never slackens and pulls the reader constantly forward and with the plot twists that keep the reader entertained. There is an infectious charm to this story which is inexplicably alluring and adding to its effect is the fact that it was the author’s debut.

The story utilizes some common fantasy tropes but due to the author’s writing, effectively manages to not hinder the reader and gives them a story which will make them engrossed in figuring out what’s going on and at the same time having quite a bit of fun along with and at Dieter’s expense. The addition of the magical college settings which are very reminiscent of Hogwarts as well as Kvothe’s University are a definite plus however the author does his best to differentiate Elliott College from the aforementioned places in many small but significant ways. The magic system is a bit generic but then once the rules are laid out it does make sense, in its pattern and schematics.

Another aspect which I want to highlight is that it doesn’t shy away from violence or the darkness of its characters and thereby makes this story score some points over the Harry Potter & Kingkiller Chronicles. There are quite some scenes of gore and violence, their presence is justifiable in relation to the plot. This story though having a teenage protagonist as well as many young characters is far away from being a YA book and that was another point which I thought should be highlighted as many readers might assume so from its blurb. There’s also the character cast which begins with Rei and she’s the second most developed character behind Dieter, however the rest of the cast gets very less presence however since it’s the first book, the author had very less time and space to do justice to them. I expect this to be rectified in the future volumes and more to be revealed about the rest of the characters as well the world they inhabit.

The sole point which kind of detracted a bit of awesomeness from this book was its ending and in this it coincidentally shares this quirk with Patrick Rothfuss’s amazing debut. The ending is a bit ambiguous in the sense it just ends and leaves the story hanging. The Name of the Wind also faced a similar complaint from its fans that the story just ended instead of having a strong climax. Some might disagree with me on this point but I felt with the aces that the story delivered, it faltered a bit in the ending. This was the only drawback experienced by me.

CONCLUSION: An excellent Urban Fantasy debut which will amaze readers with it narrative voice, plot energy and fun twists. This book is definitely one of the best debuts and will possibly herald Brian J. Shier’s ascent into future authorial stardom. This is a book heavily recommended for all fans of Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne, give it a try and find out why I think Zero Sight deserves to be counted as one of the best urban fantasy debuts of the year and possibly of this decade as well.