S.L. Huang’s Cas Russell series has a complicated publication history, it turns out. Huang wrote four self-published novels, and then when the series got picked up for commercial publication from Tor, she did some revisions on the first two, and followed them up with a third, brand-new book. (I guess the other two self-published books will come later, but not sure.)

I mention this, because I read the self-published, CC-licensed version of the first book; and then once I realized that the series was being changed around, switched over to the commercial versions for the next two. Mostly this was okay, but it’s clear that the ending of the first book is significantly different in the self-published version, so there’s a degree to which I read a fictional alt-history. I recommend sticking to the commercial versions for consistency.

So okay, with that complication out of the way: These are books about a kind of mathematical superhero. The conceit is that Cas Russell can do math so super-well that she can e.g. calculate the trajectory of a projectile to an implausible degree of precision and in realtime can perfectly dodge every hit in a fight while engaging in complicated bankshot hits. Yes, that’s not how math works, but it’s the premise so roll with it.

At any rate, these abilities come in handy in her job as a private investigator, because obviously she gets into trouble pretty quickly when it turns out that a case she’s on isn’t quite what it seems. I don’t want to give anything away, but the enemy of the first book is interesting, and the way everything plays out is fun and fast-reading. I read it on an airplane, and it’s a great airplane book.

The next two books, though, were kind of a let-down for me, because they didn’t go in the direction I wanted. What I wanted was… more of the first book. Another case, another villain, go. But what we got was Russell having to confront her mysterious past in a way that’s grimmer and darker and full of interesting ethical dilemmas. Which is fine as far as it goes, they’re good books, but you know how nobody uses “grim,” “dark,” or “ethical dilemma” as synonyms for fun? Yeah, they’re less fun.

Still, I did read through them quickly, and when a fourth one gets published, I’ll read that, too. Recommended.


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