Cover Image: Critical Point

Critical Point

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Member Reviews

Cas Russell quickly became a favorite character of mine back when I first read the start of the series, and she’s only became more awesome as the series goes on. I love every single book in this series, but Critical Point is by far my favorite out of the three now. It’s an explosive read in every sense of the word and I hope we get to read many more awesome stories about Cas.

Critical Point doesn’t pull any punches and immediately starts off with a strong first chapter, jumping right into the action and sucking you right back into the messy, action-packed world of math-genius Cas.

While S.L. Huang sure knows how to keep us at the edge of our seat and has the level of thrill cranked all the way up from start to finish, blessing us with the most amazing fight and stunt scenes, the characters and their relationships aren’t lacking either. My favorite part of Critical Point was actually how the whole book is very much about Cas‘ relationships, and how she opens up to others. Damn did that make me feel all the things.

Critical Point is all about explosions and more than once was I truly worried about the characters, especially as I started caring even more about them after so many more background stories were revealed. This story is deeply personal for Cas which made this all the more intense. Feels galore for sure and easily my new favorite. I really hope we get to look forward to a lot more books in the future.
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I’m sitting here writing this review with a strong cup of coffee and big-ass smile on my face, because THAT WAS AWESOME. Thank you Tor for approving my request for CRITICAL POINT. My physical copy will arrive soon for me to take photos and feature during #JulyofSciFi, but for now, the business:

ZERO SUM GAME was so up my street, it backed its mind-bending moving truck into my driveway. The sequel, NULL SET, made itself perfectly at home, and CRITICAL POINT feels like it has always lived here, serving hot coffee with a serious side of sass. The Cas Russell series is one of my favorites, with fast-paced, rage-filled action plus math and science-based superhero powers that are more curse than gift. I’m getting the guest room set up for book four.

In CRITICAL POINT, Cas’s found family is targeted as the past they’ve been keeping from her catches up with them—after her apartment blows up and Arthur goes missing. Someone explode-y is after Cas and her friends, and she is not having it. The shadowy mind-control organization she’s not supposed to touch? A strange man whose face and name she cannot remember? Or is it something to do with the people in Arthur and Checker’s secretive lives, making Cas question her relationship with those she thought her closest friends.

Huang seamlessly weaves these threads together as our trigger-happy antiheroine fights off bad guys not only with her math powers, but also with her terrible decisions. The snarky voice moves quickly, and there wasn’t a single moment when I felt I could put this book down. Cas is the ultimate unreliable narrator, and it’s so satisfying to watch her calculate the twists through the chaos like a perfect equation. It’s definitely the queerest of the books, so far, and there are so many explosions! Danger! Literal nail-biting edge of seat disaster! Seriously, fans of action movies and smart AF science fiction thrillers, get your hands (with pre-trimmed nails) on the Cas Russell books.

//stares at 2021 for book four//
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S. L. Huang does not disappoint in this latest Cas Russel thriller, which basically is the Fast and Furious movies translated to a scifi concept and put on pages. Like those movies, the pace is so fast, the plot so engaging, you blow right by any continuity errors—for me, that’s unusual. I’m always complaining about getting thrown out of the story by incongruities and inconsistency and errors, but if there are any here, I don’t care. You know the trope: Total Recall, Bourne Identity. Cas has special talents, ruthless enemies, and big holes in her memories. In this installment we find out more about Cas’s crew and why she doesn’t know that much about their personal lives. Mysteries, honor, explosions! After book 3, still a huge fan.
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Should someone make a Cas Russell TV series, y/y? Critical Point is the third book in the series and all I can think, besides “this is so fucking fun,” is “this would make a great CW procedural.” (Relatedly, I have started watching a very stupid CW procedural, Lucifer, which is very stupid. I have chosen not to fact-check whether it actually airs on the CW because of how indisputably it is in spirit a CW show.) Cas Russell is a low-level career criminal turned…. still kind of a career criminal? but with a team and a conscience (sort of). In a former life, she was modified in a lab by a creepy company called Pithica to be a peerless math genius, which it turns out is kind of a superpower. She uses it to do crimes and, sometimes, help people.

Critical Point begins with a teenage girl arriving at Cas’s office to ask Cas to help find her father, who hasn’t answered his text messages in a few days. Cas is ready to dismiss her until the girl tells her who her father is: Arthur Tresting. Then, while Cas is freaking out about a, her close friend and colleague going missing and b, her close friend and colleague having a secret family he didn’t tell her about, someone blows up her office. That someone appears to be an Australian named Oscar who Cas forgets about every time he’s not directly in her line of sight. It’s a real one-two punch of an opener!

I love Cas’s team, so it should be no surprise to anyone that I was delighted with the way Critical Point delves into the lives and histories of her team. Not only does Arthur have a daughter, he has actually five kids (all of them sweet, devoted, smart, and angry) and an ex-husband who is Through with This Bullshit. Not only does Arthur have five kids and an ex-husband, but Checker and Pilar knew about them. Not only does Arthur have five kids and an ex-husband that Checker and Pilar knew about, but Checker is kind of part of the family — Arthur and Diego took him in when he was screwed up and wretched and helped to set him on the straight and narrow path. So pretty much everyone knew about the secret family except for Cas.

I loved this. I loved it. Throughout the book Cas is struggling to come to terms with the knowledge that the people she has come to trust the most do not trust her that same amount. Even harder to come to terms with is the fact that they’re right. Her life is chaos, and they have chosen to keep that chaos at a distance from the ones it’s their job to protect. Yet even while knowing that Arthur considers her mad (sometimes), bad (grey area really), and dangerous to know (FAIR PLAY THERE), she continues to put everything on the line to get him back. It’s heartbreaking in the best way. My one wish was that the book had ended on a slightly more hopeful note vis-a-vis Cas’s relationship with her team. I want them to get past this. Maybe in book 4 Tabitha can become Cas’s apprentice?

(“Jenny, are your desires in this matter influenced by how much you enjoy the munchkin in Lucifer being so high on Lucifer?” Yes.)

As always in a series where one of the characters has superpowers, SL Huang has to find a way to neutralize(-ish) Cas’s superpowers in a way that doesn’t feel forced. I love the solution she’s come up with in Critical Point. The villain they’re facing has the power to surgically alter humans such that they engender very specific emotions in those who encounter them. The Australian bomber is forgettable, which is troubling in its own right. But much scarier are the dogs and man designed to engender pure, debilitating fear in anyone who looks at them. It’s a brilliant way of getting around Cas’s superpowers in fight scenes, honestly, and it taps straight into my pleasure centers re: the whole face-swapping plotline on Jane the Virgin, another really superb CW show.

(God, like, I know the world is in many ways garbage, but how fucking blessed are we to share a world with the CW? It had Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, somehow both at the same time??? Like. Gah.)

I will now do a small spoiler. It will be confined to the next paragraph only. Do not read the next paragraph if spoilers are not your thing.

My one small note on the book’s plot is that because it’s quite complicated, I think it throws a wrench in the works that nobody’s ever sure whether Pithica is doing all these wickednesses (despite their deal with Cas to leave her alone). In fact Pithica is not doing all these wickednesses, so it just gums up the works to have their involvement in question. And the works are already quite complex! There are many moving parts (allies, adversaries, people in need of protection) and red herrings! If it were me, I’d have found a way, early on, for Cas to reassure herself that this wasn’t Pithica. Then the plot would be clearer throughout, and the reveal at the end — that Pithica needed this situation dealt with and mildly manipulated Cas into dealing with it — would have had more bite.

Apart from that, Critical Point was as fun as its predecessors. Part of me hopes that SL Huang will go on writing this series for years, though another part of me knows that she has some queer fairy tale-ish sorts of stories in the hopper, and I want those too. In conclusion, I guess, please read this series so the publisher will want more of them, and then SL Huang can do whatever she wants.

Note: I received an e-ARC of Critical Point from the publisher for review consideration. This has not impacted the contents of my review.
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<p>Review copy provided by the publisher.</p>
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<p>This is the third in the Cas Russell series. Cas remains, as she has been throughout, a computational genius with no past, who shoots people a lot. Her hazy past keeps catching up with her in pieces, and holding it at bay is taking a lot of her time and energy.</p>
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<p>What's worse, her friends have histories of their own, less hazy and more immediate--and substantially undisclosed to Cas. So when a teenage girl turns up saying that her parent is in trouble--and Cas didn't even know that friend <em>was</em> a parent--there's an extra level of adventure to the psychic manipulation/blowing things up that is Cas's daily life.</p>
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<p>What's worse, she's finding it hard to keep track of all the ways in which she's being manipulated by different parties. There's someone she's supposed to remember--someone overwhelmingly terrifying--but who was he? Who was responsible for all the explosions? Who is impersonating whom here, and why?</p>
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<p>I'm trying to be careful about spoilers for this thriller, because watching it unfold is a large part of the fun, but there are even more players with even more games than in previous volumes. I think this one stands alone somewhat better than <em>Null Set</em>, but I'd still recommend starting the ride at the beginning, with <em>Zero Sum Game</em>, for maximum impact.</p>
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This has been a fun series, but it kind of takes a left turn in this one. Cas thought she actually had some friends and then finds out they've all been lying to her. Plus her powers aren't what they were. This is still non-stop action but not quite as snappy as the others. Still a fun ride and the ending is stellar. If this is the series end, it ends solid.
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3 stars, Metaphorosis Reviews
Summary
Cas Russell has already stopped a would-be do-good global mind-control conspiracy in its tracks using nothing but superhuman math and a lot of guns. And she's found out a little about her own shadowed past. Now, though, she has to fight a tougher battle - learning what friendship is all about. Oh, and scary monsters and bad guys.
Review
I enjoyed the first two books in S.L. Huang's Cas Russell series. I enjoyed this one too, but here the enjoyment is spread thinner, and the seams are starting to show. For one thing, it feels a lot like the previous book. Same sardonic tone, same super-math skill, same love of guns and violence. The difference is that here, Cas whines a lot more about how she's a bad person - but never does anything about it. There is a kind of resolution of this theme toward the end, but it was too thin and too late for my taste.
The other flaw is that the action now feels much more made-for-TV. It's an action series, sure, but it's a book, not a film. Not everything has to have great camera angles and non-stop banter. That's a little unfair, but that's how the book felt. I learned only today that Ms. Huang is in fact a professional stuntwoman, so perhaps she came by this angle honestly. I, however, found it tiring. I still liked the book, but I'm no longer entirely confident I'll like the next one. I do still want to know how it all ends, and what the mysteries are, but I feel like this title is much more filler-like than I hoped it would be. I can't help but wonder whether the original, self-published sequence worked better.
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This is an incomplete review since I ended up reading about 30% of the book before realising it was book 3 of a trilogy. But what I’ve read so far is fast paced, engaging and peopled with strong characters. I like this enough that I’m going to track down the first two books and start from the beginning. For those who like sci-fi thrillers, with sassy female genius leads – fans of Mira Grant for instance – this is going to be right up your street. Highly recommend based on what I’ve read so far.
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