Monday, 29 August 2016

Book Review: Plastic Smile by SL Huang


Cover art copyright Najla Qamber Designs. Used for illustration purposes only.


Cas Russell, antisocial mercenary, has decided to Fight Crime. With capital letters, like in one of her friend’s comic books.

After all, she has a real-life superpower: with her instantaneous mathematical ability, she can neuter bombs or out-shoot an army. And it’s Cas’s own fault violence has been spiking in the world’s cities lately — she’s the one who crushed the organization of telepaths that had been keeping the world’s worst offenders under control. Now every drive-by or gang shooting reminds Cas how she’s failed, and taking out these scumbags one at a time is never going to be enough.

She needs to find a way to stop all the violence. At once.

But Cas’s own power has a history, one she can’t remember — or control. A history that’s creeping into the cracks in her mind and fracturing her sanity . . . just when she’s gotten herself on the hit list of every crime lord on the West Coast.

Cas isn’t going to be able to save the world. She might not even be able to save herself.

Plastic Smile is the fourth book in the Russell's Attic series by SL Huang, and for my money it's probably the best yet. Which is something because I seriously love this series.

Cas Russell is... well Cas Russell is an asshole, but four books in I've got this feeling of "well she's my asshole." Her morals are sketchy at best and her skills are sold to the highest bidder but she's trying to be a better person. Not always succeeding, but trying. And she's trying to negotiate this thing called "friendship." The results are mixed.

I'm not a mathematician (really I'm not) but the maths in this series is never intrusive. It's just there, a different way of describing the world and hoe Cas interacts with it. I find it endlessly fascinating. Because if you think about it for a second, the ability to do pretty much any kind of maths near instantaneously is a seriously cool super power. Cas can avoid bullets, break any lock and her aim is basically perfect. It is such a useful power and I love the way it's used in this series.

In this book the plot intersperses the usual amount of "Cas, Cas no" with a few tantalising glimpses of her backstory. Which has been kept mysterious because for some reason she can't remember any further back than about five years or so. This story starts to put together some of what happened before then. And it also puts in jeopardy something she didn't know she cared about until now; her friendships.

I finished this book in a day and when I got to the end I howled. Which, congratulations to the author, that puts you in good company with NK Jemisin and Yoon Ha Lee this year. There was very much a feeling of YOU CAN'T END IT THERE and I am going to be waiting with bated breath for the next installment, Golden Mean, which isn't due out until next year.

I have a visceral need for the next book.

Huang has an excellent grasp of pacing, each chapter in her books short but sweet and always, always upping the stakes. To the point where halfway through the book it's difficult to imagine how things could possibly get any worse. And yet they always do.

This book kept me on the edge of my seat, had me yelling and groaning and frustrated. Mostly I just want to give Cas a big hug (even if she wouldn't appreciate it).

Also super nice: these books have nerdy references all over the place. It makes me happy down in my insides.

I've made it my mission in life to make everyone I know read this series. If I haven't badgered you about it that just means I haven't gotten around to you yet. Put this series in your face so I can flail without about how much I love it.

Read it. Read it now.

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