Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings.
From Goodreads: Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.
But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder’s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.
Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their shipor just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.
You know how it goes, right? A book hits the shelves and gets a mixed reaction. Some people really enjoy it, and some people hate it. If you’re throwing in well-known authors or ‘celebrities’ [I’m using this term here because both authors are big in the booktube community] then that scrutiny is increased ten-fold. I’ll admit that part of the intrigue for me reading this book was the many rant-reviews I watched on Youtube, with people claiming Lindsay and Sasha only got a book deal because the publisher knew a lot of fans would buy it, and that they weren’t ready. Admittedly, Sasha has only been writing for two years, so I did wonder how publishable you could be in that length of time. And since both authors are putting in an appearance at YALC, I thought it would be the perfect time to see if the book was a good read, or if it deserved some of the claims of ‘weak writing’ I’d heard about.
I have to say, the cover doesn’t really help things. The front is gorgeous, and I’m a huge fan of the purple and blue background. The silver design is pretty too, and clearly a good recommendation from Queen Maas never goes amiss. But flip over to the back of the physical book and there’s the author pictures on the back. Interestingly, I didn’t really notice this until my boyfriend made a scathing noise and pointed it out, but then when I flipped through a load of other books on my shelf, I realized his point. There are no other YA books on my shelf with an author picture on the back. In fact, the only book on my shelves with an author pic on the outside of the jacket is by Stephen King, and trust me when I say that, as much as I love Sasha’s channel, she’s not on the same level as SK.
I took that as a bit of a bad sign as I opened to the first page. The book isn’t actually as badly written as some people have claimed [although obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinions and books are subjective]. It has something of a SJM tone to the writing style. lots of description, especially about the characters, and lots of punchy sentences like: ‘The killing mask of the Baroness slid into place.’ A lot of the time, this works well, and I enjoyed a lot of the writing in the book. It was easy to get lost in. However, there were moments where attempts to write something pithy and punchy or meaningful just fell… flat. Or they came off as super-cringy. Most people who have watched rant reviews on Youtube are probably aware of the ‘hope is a raging asshole’ line, but there were plenty of other lines that made me wince, including: ‘It was a desert world where the wind blew as hot as the devil’s asshole’ and ‘her trademark glowing swords were strapped across her back like an X of death.’ I’m not actually certain what an ‘X of death’ looks like, but maybe, just maybe, the editor should blanket ban any mentions of assholes in the rest of the series unless they’re used as an insult to someone. It doesn’t work as a descriptive word, in fact it comes across like a word someone is using because they can’t think of a better one, and it seems like they’re trying to push it where it isn’t working.
Another key problem with the book [before I get on to the positives, I promise] is the sheer amount of info-dumping in Zenith. I’m a big fan of backstory, and I appreciate getting to know a bit more about the characters and the world they live in, but it seemed like almost everything was being explained. There were whole pages devoted to info-dumps or backstory. There was information on things we didn’t need, and things we did need to know about, but which could definitely have been interwoven into the text so that they were shown rather than told. Mostly, this was done with the politics of the worlds, and with Androma’s back story. I didn’t mind so much with Androma, for reasons I’ll explain later, but the politics needed to be done with a much more subtle touch. One of the reasons I guessed the big plot twist at the end was because we’d been given too much backstory about other characters and political stuff and it made it really really easy to see where it was going. More than that, when we actually did need an explanation of stuff, such as Moon Chew, there wasn’t one. I know Moon Chew isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but there were quite a few instances where the book used a phrase or term which was meant to be part of the world-building [like when we say ‘it’s no skin off my nose’ or ‘water off a duck’s back’] and because there was no context or the phrase used a place or creature name the readers weren’t introduced to, it makes absolutely no sense. It left me feeling a bit weird, like there was an inside joke going on in the writing process that I, as a reader, wasn’t privy to,
Beyond some of these problems though, Zenith was a pleasant surprise. Despite hearing a lot about how you can tell when there’s a switch in authors, I didn’t notice any of the seams or switches. Both writing styles seemed similar enough to each other that I couldn’t tell when Lindsay was writing or when Sasha was. Additionally, I really liked the characters. Androma was very well-developed and I liked how she was a morally grey character. She’s done a lot of bad, but she’s also been very unlucky and it made me sympathise with her a lot. Plus she has some excellent protagonist traits which made her jump out on the page. Gilly was hilarious throughout and I loved how Lira and Breck were such loyal companions and members of the crew. Dex was also interesting, because I couldn’t figure out if I liked or loathed him, which again is good because he’s a character you’re not meant to like on the spot. He was funny and witty and made me laugh a lot. I thought a lot of the characters had good motivations for what they were doing and were fleshed out enough that they weren’t cardboard cut-outs or archtypes.
Pacing-wise, the book also had its moments. I flew through it quite fast, and the high-stakes tension and drama made it easy to read and get lost in. As I’ve already said, there were moments when the plot was utterly predictable, but I actually didn’t mind that so much because, even though it wasn’t subtly written, it was a clever twist and I’m curious to see where it goes next. The end scenes of the book were powerful and gripping, and I think if book two had already been out on the shelves, I would have been tempted to pick it up soon so I could read on from where Zenith leaves off.
Overall, I’m giving Zenith a 6.5/10 stars. I think there were some moments when the book really came to life and grabbed my attention, and the characters were amazing, but the book could have done with more editing and some of the descriptions needed to be axed and others added so that readers could feel involved in the story, rather than excluded at times. I’m hoping book two will be a bit more developed, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it and will probably buy the next one when it comes out.
Has anyone else read Zenith and wants to agree/disagree with this review? Or maybe you’re thinking of putting it on your TBR? Let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comment section 😀 I always love reading what people have to say about books I’ve read.