Zenith: The Androma Saga is an interesting beast of a space opera, featuring a cast of female pirates, and sentences jam-packed with words that spill over into techno babble.
This young adult science fiction novel is co-authored by Texas-based YouTube star Sasha Alsberg (@ ABookUtopia) and Lindsay Cummings, another Texan, who writes the Murder Complex and Balance Keepers series.
Zenith first appeared as a partial e-book that went to #1 on The New York Times e-book list, prompting Harlequin Books to buy the rights for a published version – and what a novel it is!
Thanks to the duo’s digital success, they are billed as “#1 NYT bestselling authors”, and together they are nothing short of verbose. Alsberg and Cummings feverishly subscribe to a philosophy of “more is more IS MORE!” as they dump detail after detail into the first four chapters.
You need a pen and paper to keep track of information like the “rare impenetrable glass vaillium”, BioDrugs, the Tavina System, the Mirabel Galaxy, the planet Umbin, the desert world Vacilis, and ice-locked Solera. That’s just in Chapter 1.
Alsberg and Cummings have seemingly yet to meet a metaphor they didn’t love to torment, not unlike their titular heroine, Androma Racella.
Androma – “Andi” for short, the “Bloody Baroness” if you’re nasty – is the captain of a pirate ship called The Marauder. Her ship and crew are apparently quick because we are told they “could lose a tail as fast as an Adhiran darowak could fly”, though we never know what a darowak is or its speed.
It could be an emu metaphor for being able to run fast for short distances, since the pursuer they’re running away from quickly catches up with them. Or maybe “fly” doesn’t mean what we think it does in this part of space. Never mind, there are plenty of other treats!
Androma has been forced to become a murderer! As in she’s killed a lot of folks, keeping a tally on her electric swords. But only because of a mistake she made when she was younger.
She was a guardian for a General’s daughter, you see. But she regrets every kill she’s had to make since she inadvertently killed her former charge when she crashed a ship they were joyriding in.
Androma has a soul, you see. As we’re told after one assassination: “He was a human being. A man who had lived and breathed and loved and hated, a man she’d killed in cold blood. She’d done it because he would have done the same to her. Because if she hadn’t, she would have died.”
Moments like this would continuously take me out of the narrative as I tried to parse what Alsberg and Cummings cobbled together. If the man was going to kill her, perhaps it wasn’t murder in “cold blood” but self-defence.
Thankfully, each chapter is headed by the name of the character it focuses on, which is a helpful guide to which chapter/character to skip. Here are some choices from Androma’s all-girl crew: 13-year-old Gilly, a carnage-loving gunner; seven-foot giantess Breck, who takes care of Gilly; and pilot Lira, who is covered in scales that heat up and explode when she experiences a strong emotion.
There’s also former love interest Dex, who Androma stabbed and left for dead when she stole his ship. He’s alive! And he’s on a mission from the General whose daughter died because of Andi.
And there’s the General’s son, who’s been kidnapped by an evil queen and held captive on a prison planet with only one way in and out. The General can’t send his fleet in because this would break the treaty between the planets, so he intends to send an undercover criminal to rescue his boy. The best way to describe my review of this bit from the book would be an epic eye-roll emoji.
It’s not quite fair to say that I disliked Zenith. With some YA fiction, the work crosses boundaries and reaches readers of all ages. Zenith is aimed squarely at teens or even younger readers who might enjoy this kind of stuff.
So in conclusion, let me clarify: It’s not a terrible book, and it is possibly the best female space pirate novel I’ve read. But it is the only female space pirate book I’ve read.
Zenith: The Androma Saga
Authors: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings
Publisher: Harlequin Teen, young adult science fiction