I generally don’t consider myself a “pick up a book because it uses cool tropes” sort of reader, but I do have a few weaknesses, and one of them is forgotten history. So picking up the post-apocalyptic Zeroth Law by Guerric Haché was an easy decision. Fitting it into my crowded reading schedule was a bit trickier, but as happens so often, I got my final push from an online Book Club, and I was finally able to pull it off the digital shelf last month.
Zeroth Law recognizably takes place in North America, centuries after an apocalypse left people living generally rustic lives, with a bit of help from technological artifacts that remained functional, even if not understood. It follows two young adult leads trying to make sense of the world around them—Isavel has inexplicably returned to life after an attack that left her whole village dead, and Ada has studied coding but has lost her place at the Institute due to a tendency to ask dangerous questions. And so Isavel seeks knowledge about herself, why the gods have blessed her so, and how the raiders can be stopped. And Ada just wants to know how to create the kind of world that her Institute teachers are too afraid to even consider.
Though the cover led me to expect two protagonists traveling together, Zeroth Law is very much a story of two people independently working very different angles of a related problem. It’s not hard to see that the stories are bound to come together, but they stay mostly distinct in the first book. And at first, it’s Isavel’s story that’s easiest to immerse in—she’s the caring but tentative and confused lead that offers several obvious parallels to a reader who is also unfamiliar with the world and who quite likely doesn’t have an abundance of leadership experience. But as her story progresses, it becomes less about finding answers and more about surviving an implacable enemy. And though her half of the story does have its own climax, the action pieces are unexceptional, and it never feels like it reaches the resolution sought in the early going.
On the other hand, Ada’s tale just gets more and more interesting. She opens more than a little bit offputtingly, the teenager who thinks she knows everything and is the only one in the world who has ever had a shred of intellectual curiosity. But that curiosity, coupled with a heaping helping of independence and persistence, puts her on the path to genuine answers—toward unlocking the secret history of the world, its decline, and its gods. And while I perhaps wasn’t convinced that one character could just be that uniquely inquisitive, I had a lot of fun following her on her journey, which did provide satisfying answers even as it set up further conflicts.
Overall, if you enjoy post-apocalyptic settings with a mix of immediate danger and searching for forgotten history, it’s worth giving the Ditigesque series a serious look. And Zeroth Law had plenty of positives as a series-opener: it’s short and easy-to-digest, it introduces one fascinating plot, and it clearly sets up future conflict. But ultimately, I just liked Ada’s story a lot more than Isavel’s, and they didn’t cohere well enough for me to truly love the book on the strength of just one major arc.
Recommended if you like: growing into a series, sci-fi/fantasy hybrids.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s a Self-Published Book Club Book with No Ifs Ands Or Buts.
Overall rating: 13 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.