BOOK REVIEW: Fonda Lee’s ZEROBOXER Doesn’t Pull Punches

The sci-fi action concept in Fonda Lee’s ZEROBOXER is enough to make fans of the genre drool…

17-year-old Carr “The Raptor” Luka is an elite contender on the rise in zeroboxing– zero gravity extreme fighting. In the space station city of Valtego, Carr is one of few Terrans making an impact in a sport created by the genetically advanced Martian race, so much that he earns himself a half-Martian brandhelm in charge of his personal publicity, Risha Ponn.

Tensions between Terrans and Martians are creeping up to dangerous levels, making Carr an unwilling representative of Earth in the hearts and minds of its remaining citizens. As Risha carefully works to craft Carr’s image into the Terran hero the whole planet’s been waiting for, he learns a devastating secret that could ruin his whole career… and possibly his whole life.

As a major interplanetary battle for zeroboxing supremacy and an investigation into Carr’s background begin, the fighter must find a way to keep his head down despite shining in the intergalactic spotlight. Can Carr become the zeroboxing hero he’s expected to be and avoid the greatest personal downfall a Terran could ever imagine all at once?

As you can probably guess, the concept for this story is a world of fun! Fonda Lee does a great job explaining and hyping up the sport of zeroboxing. Important matches are described in crisp, action-packed detail, but the author also knew not to bloat the story with the less critical rounds in between. Unfortunately, ZEROBOXER does suffer from some pacing issues. A major plotline regarding Carr being blackmailed and an outside investigation into his blackmailer that could ruin his career happens in the moments in between fights, but it never reaches the suspense level we hoped for. Part of it is due to the random time jumps that show the necessary months passing between fights– It feels like far too much time passing for the rest of the blackmail story to reasonably go untouched.

Like any good YA novel, ZEROBOXER comes with a side of steamy romance. Risha is smart, savvy, and a great complement to Carr. Her mixed heritage helps Carr gain a broader knowledge on Terran-Martian relations as political tensions grow. While they’re certainly sexy together, there’s only one or two scenes where you really feel any chemistry between them. Still, the relationship works nicely and is a solid distraction from the more nitty-gritty fighting aspects.

The ending was pleasing but a little Rocky. Literally! Rocky IV, to be exact, complete with the political relations speech in the middle of the arena as two civilizations on the brink of war watch on. Carr’s majorly threatening personal problems all solve themselves a little too easily for my tastes, but there’s a slight open-endedness to the conclusion that will leave fans asking for more.

For a debut novel, ZEROBOXER has a strong setting and concept with likeable characters and a complex dilemma that will certainly grab fans, but it may not be enough to completely thrill them. Still, you won’t tap out of this book. In fact, if you love science fiction and combat sports stories, this might be a TKO!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

ZEROBOXER is on sale April 8th!