I have been excited about this book for years! Ever since I read Plastic Smile (now re-released as Null Set, the second book in the revamped series that I reviewed here LINK) I’ve been waiting for the next entry in the series. It has arrived, and I thought the amount of character development that Cas got in this book was really promising. I mentioned in my review of book two that Cas’s ignorance about her own past was starting to seem more frustrating than intriguing, especially contrasted with the comparative knowledge of other characters who regularly appear on page, making the continued mystery seem a bit like forced suspense. BUT that’s not the case in this book, Cas starts to learn more about herself, both past and present, and it was really cool to see her mature a bit while still remaining the badass character that she is.
S. L. Huang’s Critical Point is a breakout SF thriller for fans of John Scalzi and Greg Rucka.
Math-genius mercenary Cas Russell has stopped a shadow organization from brainwashing the world and discovered her past was deliberately erased and her superhuman abilities deliberately created.
And that’s just the start: when a demolitions expert targets Cas and her friends, and the hidden conspiracy behind Cas’s past starts to reappear, the past, present, and future collide in a race to save one of her dearest friends.
Before I go any further, I feel the need to point out that there could be spoilers for Zero Sum Game and Null Set if you read any further, just by nature of reviewing this book with any sort of specificity. If you haven’t read the previous two Cas Russel books and would like to do so, you should probably stop reading this review here.
I was sad that Pilar wasn’t as featured in this book, as I really love seeing the two of them interact. I liked learning more about people from both Checker and Arthur’s previous life, though I was a little confused about how we were supposed to know about DJ. I assume from the references that he appeared in Zero Sum Game, and I just forgot. I liked the realistic way in which Checker and Arthur’s behaviour changed in relation to the people around them, and the many twists that occurred in Critical Point kept me guessing and entertained for the whole book.
Except for one, one of the main twists in the book that I assume was supposed to seem innocuous originally never did for me, so I guessed one of the major developments in part before it came to light. I still enjoyed the book though, and I thought the themes of fear, beauty, obligation and manipulation explored in this book were all worked in very well.
I think the new characters introduced in Critical Point are great ones, and I look forward to seeing how they will affect future books (and Cas). I liked the LGTQ+ representation we got in this book, and I always appreciate casual representation—when a person is introduced as themselves before their sexual/gender identity is revealed, because for most people, it really isn’t an immediately obvious trait.
I wish Rio got fleshed out a little more too—a deeply religious assassin trying to do good is an immediately fascinating character—and I wish we got to see more of Rio in action like we did in Zero Sum Game. I still don’t like Simon, and the angst that is presumably intended to surround his interactions with Cas really isn’t there for me. I thought the situation surrounding his powers in this book was interesting, but I really need to know more about him as a person to care about him, and right now I don’t. The tease for upcoming developments at the end of this book might change that though, and I’m definitely willing to be more interested in Simon if he starts playing a more active role in things.
Overall, Critical Point was a solidly entertaining book, that carried the series to very interesting places. I look forward to Cas and friends kicking ass in new and interesting ways in future books. I gave my recommendations for what series this might appeal to fans of in my review of Null Set, and all of those comparisons stand, so I’ll try to think of some different ones for this review.
I think the Cas Russel series (because you should absolutely be reading these books in order) would appeal to people who like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Saga or AJ Hartley’s Steeplejack novels. These books are a little further away from the general feel of Critical Point than the books I compared to Null Set, but I was trying to avoid repetition. Feel free to take these as recommendations if you read and liked Critical Point, and are looking for more recommendations, too.