The misfit powered teens from last year’s Zeroes, co-written by YA powerhouse team Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti, are back for another go round in Swarm. And like all good sequels, Swarm finds their world expanding considerably and, with that expansion the dangers they face.
The book opens six months after the somewhat catastrophic events of Zeroes. The six teens have opened an illegal nightclub called the Petri Dish as a way of testing and refining their powers. But while the club provides them with a safe haven, their activities have attracted some unwelcome attention. They soon realise something that should have been obvious to them – they are not the only Zeroes in the world. While the Zeroes have been trying to use their powers responsibly (or at least not destructively), it turns out that others are not so conscientious. When their club is crashed by two teens with new abilities the Zeroes find themselves in the crosshairs of a deadly Zero known only as Swarm who (it seems) enjoys killing other Zeroes (shades of the early seasons of powered-people TV series Heroes here).
Once again, the issues of just being a young adult are front and centre in Swarm. In particular the relationships, romantic and otherwise, between the six protagonists. As this is set around Christmas, their relationships with their families are also explored in a bit more depth, particularly Anonymous whose family cannot remember him. But in the end, once again, the six are essentially on their own as their world and their connections fracture under the pressure of this new threat.
Swarm is an impressive addition to this series. The narration flicks seamlessly between the six points of view, tension builds effectively, the stakes feel real and there are serious consequences. The characters and their relationships takes this out of the Heroes/ X-Men/ Misfits wannabe category and allows it to stand on its own two super powered feet.
This review first appeared in Aurealis #96, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, www.aurealis.com.au.