The Legend of ZERO: Forging Zero by Sara King, is a sci-fi novel full of surprises: fascinating alien life-forms, chilling atmospheres, bloody action sequences, and a protagonist with relentless courage.
(This review contains some minor spoilers)
King's novel begins with a dark tone: Earth has been taken over by the the Ooreiki, alien species with tentacles, and the government is powerless against them. Kids are being recruited by the Congressional Army, and Joe, an “average” kid with an “above-average” brother and a bitchy mother, becomes a part of this life-changing movement where he meets other kids younger than him as he experiences the horrors of alien-military life. Early on, he is named “Zero”but he is never a nobody in their quest; he may be “average” in Earth, but readers would soon learn that he becomes an integral part of the story's major conflict. The first few chapters clearly describes the terror that sets the novel's atmosphere.
Although the heroic characters are kids, Forging Zero is way darker than most mainstream young-adult fiction novels these days. Despite the juvenile small-talk conversations between the children, the story would definitely get an R rating if it was adapted into a movie. King does not hold back when it comes to portraying violence: in Forging Zero, we see Joe get an erection (which I thought was funny),children get killed, children trash-talk, and fight. We hear them whine and cry thanks to military pressure and cruelty. There is no easy way out, and the fear just never goes away.
But Zero, like most likable heroes, is a natural leader who won't easily back down. In a way, he reminds me of Orson Scott Card's popular character, Ender Wiggin, with a bolder representation of bravery minus the prodigy's exceptional intelligence. With well-developed military elements, I'm sure many readers would agree that there's an Ender's Game-feeling the earlier chapters. The novel has unforgettable alien language that King cleverly creates. Though I'm not sure how to pronounce some of the exotic words, I feel like I'm learning the Congie vocabulary as I'm reading. Terms like Dhasha, Huouyt, or Taki-shit Furgs, are already embedded in my brain; plus the character names that share its alien tone.
But that's just one of the reasons that makes Forging Zero a pleasure to read. The world of Khopat, the primary setting, is vividly-realized; the putrid environment is described with animating and often-scientific details such as the ferlii --a tree-like structure and the different species that inhabit the planet. The physical details are impressive, and the author uses metaphors in her descriptions in surprising ways. Despite the consistent obsidian-themed architectures, there are colorful scenes like this:
Like many other sci-fi stories, some characters are more interesting than others while some become more interesting later-on; they are more than what they seemed to be at first. Zero's bravery and heroism are admirable; his internal conflict seems to be as challenging as his action-packed battles. There are choices he has to make. Initially,all he wants is to go back to escape his duty as a recruit, and get home to his planet with his kids, but later on, he finds out that he has a greater role not only among his friends, but also within the society oppressed by the ones in power. Battlemaster Nebil is the typical trash-talking military commander who's meant to thicken soldiers' skin, but training the kids as young as them is not as convincing as I had hoped. I thought the alien characters are more interesting than the kids; they're more fleshed-out.
Readers would know the backgrounds of some of the kids, how their lives were like in Earth, but most of them are as mundane as their present small-talk conversations. The supernatural elements, the cool technology, and the weird physical anatomies are more fun to read than typical kindergarten talk. Prince Bagkhal is probably my most favorite character in this novel, and I'm sure many readers would like his interactions with Zero. Their conversations are thought-provoking.For some reason, I didn't like how the Trith are overpowered, and the Capture the Flag scene was confusing to me, but most of the battle scenes are finely-paced. Although the prophecy-aspect of the plot is predictable, I thought the clever twists near the end is one of the most rewarding points of King's novel. “Fuck fate!” as Zero said. Overall, Forging Zero is an inventive work of sci-fi that would truly make readers feel like they've traveled to another planet.
If you love to read quality imaginative sci-fi novels, I highly recommend this novel. King's Forging Zero is a fun ride that would move your imagination with its rich world and unforgettable adventures.