Anti-heroine & Action in the Cas Russell Series by S. L. Huang

The series so far (2020) consists of Zero Sum Game #1, Null Set #2, Critical Point #3

Pages: 336, 312 and 368

Genre: thriller/mystery type of book with some science fiction aspects, mostly in people with ‘superpowers’ (used for more bad than good)

It’s truly going into the pile (in my head) of favourite books.

Synopsis

For the first book as to not spoil anything;

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

My thoughts

Rating out of five: five stars, four stars, four stars

I was looking for a character like Cas when I started this series, which I think is the clue to liking it. What you’re dealing with is mob/cartel level of action and bloodbath, where the side characters are everything from cops turned ‘personal investigators’ to trained assassins and sharpshooters. Not to mention the whole ‘evil organization’ thing going on, which turns out to actually have a whole epic scheme going on. The bad reviews I’ve seen has made me angry in that they’re mostly people who hate the cold calculated voice that Cas brings to this, but surely they’re warned that this isn’t some young adult book and that she’s grown up with this level of violence, even as the lack of knowledge of her background becomes a bigger and bigger plot point.

Cas is deadly, supernaturally so, with some question-marks at the end of that remark. The more science fiction and supervillains with powers parts comes through in the second and third book more, but I liked it. The math parts I expected to be bad from the synopsis, but they were an interesting part of her abilities, and plays a good role in the books. As the math lover I am, I would’ve wanted even more of it, but it’s like drizzled in there so that it can be ignored by those who would want to. It adds a bit of magic, almost.

The level of action, the mystery of Cas’ past, the level of gray area of morality (turning completely black at some points), the bad guys with a conscience – it all really made me love this series. The ‘superpowers’ are original, the writing funny in a dry way. It has everything I was looking for in a fast-paced, but exciting read. But then I do love the character of Rio as well, the emotionless being he seems to be. I mean who can’t be interested after a sentence like this –

“Ms. Russell,” said Dawna delicately, “I am not sure you are fully aware of Mr. Sonrio’s skills. His ability to be effective—it borders on the unrealistic. He has destroyed entire governments. Leveled armies. Found and obliterated terrorist cells the intelligence agencies of several continents were chasing their tails trying to pursue. He has altered the course of nations. A lone man.” Her voice was calm, factual, and very serious. Huh. So that was what Rio did in his spare time. I’d had no idea he was that impressive. I’m not going to lie: I was jealous.

Mermaid & Siren Book Recommendations

I’ve always loved the ocean and therefore also books about everything in it, but I feel the young adult mermaid books often falls into the trap of being too stuck to The Little Mermaid plot and tropes! There’s other ways to do mermaids folks!

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Full review! 3/5 stars. It was an enjoyable book with deadly sirens that had very The Little Mermaid retelling vibes and pirates that had a true Pirates of the Carribean vibe, thrown in with some royalty and princes as well. The main character is fierce and the book promises a killer and general darkness that it doesn’t quite deliver on. Halfway it turns more into slow-burn romance and trying to create a revolution which, funnily enough, was the predictable path. But if you like mermaids and/or pirates, this is definitely a book I would recommend!

The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

A norse-inspired little mermaid retelling with f/f relationship, where the main character has to outsmart the God of Lies Loki. Relatively short as it’s just above 200 pages. Stunning cover art.

DNF’ed because I couldn’t like the writing, and that makes it incredibly difficult for me to get into any story.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Full review! 4/5 stars. Incredible writing! This is a dream of a fantasy book, the ultimate fairy-filled tale I wanted as a kid, with a main character who’s a brat, but a smart one, and both supportive and tired of his friends. It’s less of a magical school as it’s a magical military academy, hah. So underrated, with gay/bi boys and main character! Mermaids is one of the multiple magical creatures here, so much less focus on them than in the other books on this list.

Lies Beneath by Anna Greenwood Brown

DNF’ed after really giving it a couple good tries. I wanted to like this book. It has evil mermaids!! I mean it starts out with “I hadn’t killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.” Definitely give it a try! And it’s written from a male mermaid … merman? which makes it interesting. It just wasn’t for me.

Wake (Watersong #1) by Amanda Hocking

I really want to reread this book. Because from what I remember it was; good mermaids. boring plot. And a very interesting dynamic between four girls, a trio plus a girl who don’t yet know she’s a mermaid. It’s like H20 book edition, but also the mermaids have evil tendencies?? But I remember it being so interesting and a guilty pleasure. I have to reread it.

Of Poseidon and The Syrena Legacy by Anna Banks

Full review of the first book! 3/5 stars. I’ve only read the second book in the series as well, and it’s pretty much the same and equally as good. It’s just summer vibes with all the mermaids you need. Stubborn and awkward teenagers that tries to figure things out, just in the “you might be a mermaid” format, mixed in with mermaid royalty and some politics. It also has a main character that is quite the fierce girl, and throws a couple punches. A very character driven novel, with a good friendgroup.

Other mermaids book on my TBR (for another time):

Come to the Rocks by Christin Haws

A short story with 66 pages! I know little of it except it has f/f romance with a mermaid, and that’s truly all I need.

Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

Another book with mermaid killers, which I really hope won’t let me down. I just hope it’s taken all the way, for once, without being worried about how ‘likeable’ that makes the mermaids. I’ve read it’s supposed to have a fierce female protagonist and a lesbian romance, so that sounds promising.

Do you have any mermaid or siren books to recommend? Preferably not the little mermaid retellings, haha.

Pirates & Sirens: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo | Book Review

Genre: young adult fantasy, mermaids/sirens

Pages: 340

Synopsis

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy? 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: three stars

I’m still not quite cold enough for the ocean that birthed me.

For a the little mermaid retelling with lots of pirates of the caribbean vibes mixed in, this was a good story. It was not as dark as it promised, however. Some parts are truly taken out of the little mermaid and the evil Ursula. I felt the story could’ve gone way deeper than it did on the abuse Lira goes through, for example it shows in a superficial, but at the same time well-placed way, why her cousin is the only siren left that Lira cares about. At the same time her beliefs, moral or confidence is never a question, the way you would’ve thought under that type of abuse. I recently read “The Midnight Lie” by Marie Rutkoski and I think that book deserved an extra star just from the mind-twisting that results from the similiar abuse the main characters had to endure there. It’s great to have a fierce female main character, who is truly deadly, but I really think a book should just go full out and not soften her, whether it’s because the plot requires it or fear of making her unlikable.

So what’s left is action and a bit of (unecessary honestly) romance, and a genuinely cool story with pirates, royals and mermaid-like sirens and horror-like mermaids. It all builds up towards this big endgame and destroying the enemy by using one item, which I was really worried about, but this standalone managed to finish it off with a good finale. Not that it wasn’t boring, but it felt epic enough. I genuinely liked the characters, and it was those who carried the story through.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, but it’s missing a layer somehow. Both the characters, the plot and the writing is very straight-forward, which makes it an easy read, but also predictable. Definitely some enemies-to-lovers vibes going on as well, which I’ve truly realized is a trope I’m loving recently. In this book I would’ve been very happy if they’d just stayed soulmates though, and never introduced romance into it. It just didn’t really fit.