Zero Sum Game (Cas Russell #1) ★★★☆☆

zerosumgame (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Zero Sum Game
Series: Cas Russell #1
Author: Lisa Huang
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 397
Words: 108K



From & Me

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.

Cas is hired to rescue a drug mule by her older sister Dawna. Once she rescues Jill, she realizes she’s been conned but can’t figure out why or even how. Her friend Rio, a sociopath who has turned his violent tendencies against sinners, tells her to not get involved. So of course Cas goes digging and finds the name Pithica. This gets her Information Broker and his 8 year old daughter killed and brings Cas into conflict with a Private Investigator who is tracking Jill down for murdering his clients husband.

Eventually Cas hooks up with the cop, Arthur, and they begin to realize there is an actual worldwide conspiracy headed by a group of people who can effectively read minds and brainwash anyone they want. Their goal is to reduce the overall misery in the world even if they have to take away peoples’ free will.

Cas, Arthur, and a reluctant Rio, team up and plot and scheme and eventually cut off the financial steams feeding Pithica. They attempt to trap and kill Dawna, as she is one of the Elite mind changers but it is only with Rio’s help that they make it out alive. But not unscathed. Dawna has brainwashed them into never going after Pithica again.

Cas realizes her own powers might have sprung from the same pit as Dawna’s (gene therapy, secret labs, all the usual schlock like that) but gets it all erased at the end. She hooks up with Arthur to help with his PI business.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed the story line for the most part. However, Cass is a filthy mouth jackass and her potty mouth near the beginning of the book almost had me put it down. Also Rio and his “I’m a sociopathic killer with no emotions but I’m going to use the Bible as my moral compass but I’m damned anyway but I’m going to kill badguys anyway for God” schtick was beyond messed up. It made zero sense to me. No, I take that back. It made perfect sense if you don’t believe in an actual God but believe the Bible is a set of rules and nothing more.

The action was pretty good. Lots of fighting, gun battles, grenades, etc. Cas and her mathamagic made for some great scenes and in some ways reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr, where he posits what is going to happen in the near future based on Action X that he takes now. No complaints whatsoever in that department.

The thriller aspect was just as well done. I didn’t even try to figure anything out (I almost never do anyway in these types of books, I’m just not wired that way) but sat back and let Huang tell her story at her own pace. It kept my attention the whole time, the tension factor was just right and I never wished the story “was over already”.

That being said, I don’t plan on reading any more in this series. Cas’s profanity and Rio (who is supposed to be a paragon of reasoning power) and his ethos, are not things I want to subject myself to any further.

For an alternate review that is a bit more enthusiastic, I’d recommend checking out The Irresponsible Reader’s Review from ’18.



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18 thoughts on “Zero Sum Game (Cas Russell #1) ★★★☆☆

  1. So probably a skipper for me. Was it just her, or did the author just use swearing to cover the fact that good dialogue is hard to write? I’ve read books like that…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was just Cas. I didn’t notice any issues whatsoever with the other characters conversing, so it was a deliberate thing for Cas. Definitely not something I want in my day-in, day-out reading…


  2. I also don’t like the typical “potty mouth” way of speech that seems to be rampant in the US and very often filters through in US literature as a societal mirror. At least the wisecracks of Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled alcoholic PI created by Raymond Chandler, had some dark sense of poetic humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the plug! I do wish you’d enjoyed it more, but I get your points.

    Rio’s character gets a bit more nuanced in book 2, and it’s clearer that he’s deluded in his motivation. Am betting book 3 continues that…

    Cas, tho? Yeah, you’d really not like where she goes in Book 2.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It does bug me these days that so many authors’ idea of a “strong, independent woman” needs to be sass, snark, and profanity. It’s a bit lazy, if you ask me. That said, I did enjoy this too, and I was about to ask if you read the next one until I read to the end of your review. Oh well! I was just curious because I got the third one for review and was wondering if it’s worth it to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😀
      Very lazy, very stereotypical but fitting right in with those kind of peoples’ world view.

      After Irresponsible Reader’s comment above, I feel vindicated in not continuing this series. So good luck in deciding if you’ll go on or not 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. See, I have to differ with you about that first part. Profanity comes across as nothing more than a lack of self-control (in real life) so when I see it in a fictional character, I attribute that to the author.
      I do agree that most of the time it is used as a lazy prop though 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I sometimes also see profanity as a way for CERTAIN readers to relate with characters, in the sense that the characters are “speaking” the same language as the reader hahahah Then again, when it’s so outrageous that imagining someone in real life relating to that kind of profanity makes you want to throw up, then… fuggedaboutit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always viewed profanity as a moral failing, so while I won’t quit a book because it has profanity, it definitely belongs in the “things bad guys do” side of the list. Right along with killing babies and robbing old ladies 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I guess I’ll skip this one, not because of profanity, though from you write it’s quite detrimental to the story and reading experience here, but because of the overause of tropes (the Biblical serial killer, ugh).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Huh, for some reason this didn’t show up on my notification. Good thing I check the comments section 😀

      Glad to have saved you a wasted read. After your time with the Poppy War, sounds like you need a really good book!


  7. I can see why you had issues with this. I hate pointless swearing ie describing something as an effing shop or door or something equally stupid. I find it lazy writing if every second word is an f bomb. The excuse of the Bible as a reason to kill would also be annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

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