The author of the following review attempted to submit it to Amazon but ran into some sort of trouble. I've obtained permission from him to post it here instead, so that it can get its proper due. You need to have read Zero Sight to truly appreciate some of his references. There are also some minor spoilers, so I've placed the review after the break.
If caught on a long bus ride,
you do NOT want to be reading Joyce's Ulysses
An Objective Analysis Of Zero Sight by Dr. Renzo Massari, Ph.D., Esteemed Global Economist, and Unabashed John Tukey Fanboy
Full disclosure: I was a beta reader for this book.
How this might affect my review, that's up to you to decide!
B. J. Shier's first book knows exactly what it wants to achieve, states it, and then achieves it perfectly. You see, during a cross-country bus ride, Dieter, the main character, tries to force-feed himself Joyce's Ulysses. And hates it. Hates it passionately. And makes sure the reader is sure how much he passionately hates it. Now, while Ulysses is a poor choice as a book to approach during a bus ride from Vegas to NYC, Zero Sight is exactly the thing to keep your mind entertained during the trip: fast-paced action, characters snapping witticisms faster that towels in a locker room (couldn't help it: I can imagine Dieter saying something like that), nods at all the tropes from the genres it has chosen to pay tribute to, etc. So was the bus ride a self-referential literary review? I don't know, but I'd like to think so (since I do like Joyce).
This is, after all, a Bildunsroman/coming-of-age tale in which a young man in an existential high-school crossroads discovers he's got super magical powers, goes to a secret school for the gifted, falls in love with the coolest hottest vamp (contradictory, temperature-related adjectives for multi-angled meanings fully intended), discovers he's really good at distributing pain, and gets sucked into the effort to defeat a plot to destroy the world. There's only so many twists you can give to that framework in a post Books-of-Magic, Harry Potter, etc world, but BJS does it nicely by shifting enough of his hero's characteristics to make it fresh again. The guy's a little older (senior in high school) and a science geek (although also a good brawler (thanks to his gift) with enough of a build to attract the ladies... it is fantasy fiction). This is crucial because: (a) sexual tension comes into the mix explicitly, in particular the kind that leads to self-deprecating humor from the inner monologue of a very horny, nerdy freshman who has just met the ultimate anime she-vamp; and (b) Dieter's compulsive need to understand everything and, more than that, to make sure you know he got-it-'cause-he's-so-bright allows the author to explain the mechanics of the world (both the post-suspension of disbelief, Rifts-RPG-like, ley-line based magic system; as well as some very real-world details on the medical issues behind severe burns and on the perils of diving during the detonation of an explosive... yes, the author is a med student with a thing for skin burns and diving, so trust him on those). Just when you begin to think, "wait, what, how did that happen?", some character gets possessed by the Socratic spirit and asks Dieter "now, Dieter, why do you think this works like that?" and Dieter thinks and gets it and, in answering, explains it to us. So don't worry about needing any reference manuals to enjoy this self-contained book: if one is needed, Dieter will read it out for you from within the story. I did say this novel was an ideal companion for a bus ride (or a plane ride, when there's no data connection to check wikipedia with).
In all seriousness, at some point that aspect of the book' style was beginning to worry me (the other being how always-witty Dieter was, even in situations in which Navy Seals would be crying out for mommy) when I realized that it actually is a brilliantly chosen stylistic option: the book is narrated by Dieter himself, surely a kid with self-esteem issues; this is _his_ re-telling of the story, so of course he will always get everything at the moment and of course he will always be witty, and of course he gets the girl... Oh, I'm so hoping that, at the end of the series, we find out he was imagining everything all along! Now that would be so... OK, OK: so a nod to Neon Genesis Evangelion? If you can think of it, it's been done, I guess, but to do well the "unreliable narrator" and pull it off, now that's hard.
(By the way, that might be why Dieter has to hate Ulysses so passionately: if there's a novel that leaves things unexplained... It's so completely against the structure of his mind.)
Which brings me to conclude: if you love the contemporary take on the boy-meets-Faerie genre, love manga, anime, role-playing game world-mechanics, and fantasy tropes blended together, plus an El Mariachi-styled nod to drug violence coming from South of the border, then you are likely to like a book that mashes all of these together in a web of well-edited prose. This book will do it. Heck, Tarantino and Rodriguez earned their fortunes by doing this sort of tribute and with characters that are not half as interesting as Zero Sight's (even Gaiman's Sandman and Books of Magic begin with that tribute-feel to them, come think of it). So go for it. We, nerdy types, all secretly wish we could shoot raw energy out of our hands; until we manage, living vicariously through Dieter's a sweet substitute. (And did I mention he gets the really cool hot girl?)
p.s. Oh, one last thing: please, please no matter how much you like the book, don't start exclaiming "stars above!" whenever you mean to say "oh my god!", "Jesus Christ!", "holy sh*t!", or some other judeochristian-infused expression of righteous surprise. BJS has it copyrighted by now, I'm sure.
p.s.2. Is it a tribute to Tolkien that the bad guys come from South of the border and are, presumably, not as pale-skinned? Or is it just the state of current global affairs? i.e. that, this being the US in a close tomorrow, it'd be difficult to pull a credible existential foreign-yet-neighboring threat from... Canada?
4/5 Stars (Five is reserved for, like, Don Quijote, so forgive me for lowering the average...it's what I would give LOTR!)
Well, there ya have it. I'm going to go ice my head and giggle.