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Zero Repeat Forever

by G.S. Prendergast

BfYPSeptember_Zero-Repeat-Forever_CoverThe first novel in G.R. Prendergast’s Nahx Invasions series introduces readers to a dystopian Earth under attack from an alien species. No one knows why the Nahx are invading, only that the siege is ruthless and devastating. At the centre of the story are Raven and Eighth – two characters on opposite sides of the war who become unlikely allies.

Eighth is a low-ranking foot soldier in the Nahx army. When the book opens, he’s disoriented, the result of waking up in the middle of a battle. He’s also struggling with directives being fed into his mind by a higher authority through a newly implanted device, and residual thoughts and feelings from before his mind was altered. As these old feelings are swept away, they are replaced by rage, hatred directed at humans, and loyalty to his Nahx Offside (partner).

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Raven is at an Alberta wilderness camp, where she and her boyfriend, Tucker, are about to start community service following their arrest in a Calgary park. Raven doesn’t know what’s happened to her family in the wake of the Nahx attacks back home – but she clings to the hope that they may be among the few survivors.

This lays the groundwork for what becomes a character-driven novel related in Eighth’s and Raven’s alternating first-person narration. When Eighth’s Offside is killed, he becomes rudderless. She was the dominant partner, and now he has only his directives to guide him. Tucker’s death at the hands of the Nahx leaves Raven feeling unmoored too – not only did she love him, their relationship gave Raven some hope that together they’d get through the apocalypse. The deaths come as devastating blows to Raven and Eighth, but it’s their reactions that make the story interesting.

The two stories merge when Eighth finds Raven hiding in a trailer bathroom. Eighth knocks Raven unconscious and, while he’s standing over her, becomes disturbingly infatuated with her. He returns Raven to her friends, but surruptitiously continues to follow her. After Raven is badly injured in a fight with another Nahx, Eighth runs away with her to nurse her back to health. What develops is an uncomfortable co-dependency. Raven isn’t a prisoner, but she’s forced to rely on Eighth for her survival, and she hates him for everything his species has done to hers. Meanwhile, Eighth feels the urge to run, but stays because he knows Raven will die without his care – and because he believes he loves her.

Prendergast is a talented sci-fi writer – her world-building is impeccable, her character development is complex, and her pacing is spot on. The relationship between Eighth and Raven, however, is unsettling. Although their behaviour is consistent with their character development and circumstances, their relationship is a textbook example of domestic abuse. Aside from Eighth’s initial stalking, Raven and Eighth have violent interactions, even after they become close. Following each fight (and a brief cooling-off period), Eighth begs for forgiveness and they go back to “normal” – until the next time. Raven remains reliant on him for survival, which mirrors the reality for many women who can’t leave abusive relationships because of socioeconomic and other issues. Hopefully, teens will read this as a cautionary tale, but because the book is written in first person, it’s easy to feel empathy for Eighth, especially once it is revealed he was previously abused by his Offside.

The broader theme of identity also permeates the novel. Early in the book, we learn that Raven is struggling with her concept of self. She frequently ponders the meaning of her name, and whether or not it suits her. At one point, she talks about living with her mother, who is black, and her stepfather, who is Métis, and about her absent birth father, who is white. “Does that make me mixed? And does part of that mix have to be the white family I don’t even know?” she thinks. As readers, we continue to explore her struggle through her ruminations and her reactions to racial slurs and micro-aggressions. Eighth deals with something similar when his directive device is cut and he loses his connection to his species, but has no hope of ever fitting in with humans.

Aside from concerns relating to the portrayal of domestic abuse, the series holds potential. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of Eighth and Raven’s relationship to see if the toxicity is addressed explicitly in the next book – which will also hopefully clear up some unanswered questions in the storyline.