Swarm by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"'Cause people don't understand, understand, understand
People don't understand people like me."
Last year, I liked Zeroes, but I thought it had a few flaws - namely, its tendency to highlight the least interesting characters in the titular group, and at considerable length too. I have to wonder if Westerfeld, Lanagan, and Biancotti got similar complaints from other readers, and worked to make improvements in Swarm.
For sure, this sequel improved on its predecessor on so many levels. It wasn't quite perfect, I don't think. Bellwether was still flat and underwritten, and I have such a hard time taking him seriously as a Zero, because his superpower basically amounts to good leadership skills. And as for Mob, while she doesn't feel redundant alongside Bellwether (her power is made more distinct from his), she spends most of the book so subsumed in crowd energy that she has little time to develop a personality of her own.
That said, though, Swarm still has its times and places for building on the world the first book established. We're still in the dark about the source of the Zeroes' powers, but whatever it is, it's not Cambria, I don't think. There are Zeroes from outside this little seaside town. Dangerous ones with some seriously deadly powers. The book's title actually refers to one of these new Zeroes, an exceedingly psychopathic dude whose power is chaos. Chaos is, in fact, the word of the day in this book, which ramps up the intensity to unforeseen levels because of Swarm's threat. Dovetailing nicely with this chaos, the book makes it very clear that many of the Zeroes, their powers are very emotionally-influenced. Now some of what bothered me about Book 1 makes a little more sense - like, for instance, Scam's power to tell people what they want morphing into an insulting bag-of-dicks voice when he gets mad, because the voice is saying what he wants to hear.
Character development continues on a hot streak in this book as well. Even Bellwether has to undergo a major role reversal when Swarm's power overwhelms his just as much as everyone else's. No less than two romantic relationships blossom - one of which is same-sex, adding more intersectionality to an already diverse cast. And my favorite of the Zeroes, Anonymous, we get to see even more of how much his own family's forgotten him. Not gonna lie - he gave me all the feels all over again, especially when he interacted with Flicker.
Best of all, unlike the fairly standalone first book, Swarm even ends with a pretty nasty cliffhanger that really tears the group asunder. Which can mean only one thing - I'll be dying to read Book 3 this time next year. Or whenever it comes out.
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