[ARC] ‘Zero’ – Marc Elsberg

Rating: 4.5 stars


The more you share, the more they take. What will you have left?

How much of ourselves are we putting online? When a teenager is shot dead after chasing a criminal in the street, investigating journalist Cynthia Bonsant is led to the popular social media platform Freemee, a competitor to Facebook whose lifestyle app claims to give you everything you need to succeed in life: confidence, knowledge, money . . .

But there is someone who warns against its evils: ZERO, the world’s most-wanted activist, known for his viral videos campaigning against the loss of privacy in the digital age, growing data theft at government level and the rising number of teenage suicides.

As Cynthia gets closer to unravelling the evil mastermind behind the Freemee site, she herself becomes a target, and runs for her life into the sewers. But in this world of surveillance cameras, data glasses and intelligent smart phones there is nowhere to hide . . .”

Release Date

July 12th (Penguin, Doubleday)



Firstly, I would like to thank Penguin Doubleday and specifically Thomas Hill for sending me a proof copy of this book, it was so exciting to receive, I loved reading it and I am so excited to write this review! This book was marketed as a book for those who enjoyed The Circle and Black Mirror and they were so right, I love both of those and The Circle especially had a huge resemblance to this book!

I am someone who has always had a large interest in technology, so this was pretty much the perfect book for me, a thriller based on technology, especially revolving around social media and the influence it has on today’s society. This book had the perfect blend of the really detailed technology and also a gripping story, although it did take a little bit of time to take off. I do think the world-building and establishing the technology was necessary, but it also could have been a little more condensed and have held the same power as it did.

I thought this book was especially impactful and clever because it only used technology that already exists in today’s society. There was no over the top futuristic technology that made it feel unbelievable, it all felt almost too real which made it slightly terrifying. It was also an extremely clever use of existing technology, as it was definitely a step further than the technology we are familiar with, but utilising aspects that are very common in a new and innovative way that suddenly becomes far more controlling and intrusive than currently exists. I think this was particularly important as it highlighted how easy it would be for this to become a reality in the very near future! I don’t necessarily think this advance should be stopped, but it is always good to be aware of the risks of such a software so that it is not used blindly as is done by the characters in this book.

The technology in this book, Freeme, is pretty much a service that combines lots of apps that already exist, for example exercise tracking and fitness advice, nutrition tracking and advice, dating apps, but also incorporates apps for help in social settings and other aspects which are very common. The biggest difference between this service and those that already exist is that with this you are paid for the data collected by the app, instead of it being sold to third parties with no benefit to the user. This introduces a competitive element, because depending on your ranking you get paid more for your data, so it encourages you more and more to use their services!

I like how there wasn’t necessarily a world-building part of this books that was separate to the plot, we learnt about the technology and its impact along with the main character, Cynthia. She is possibly a little too stereotypical in the “middle-aged people don’t stay up to date with technology”, although this is definitely true to an extent, she was so clueless that it felt a little far-fetched, especially as her career would require her to be up to date on current events, so even if she didn’t use the technology you would expect some basic awareness. However, this does give the reader an opportunity to learn about the technology from scratch.

The only downside of this book was that it was quite confusing getting my head around all of the different cast members. It was a very varied cast and many of them did not interact with each other, they were very much in separate situations, so I did find it a little difficult to follow. There is a cast list in the back explaining very briefly who each character is and who they’re associated with, but I didn’t find this until I had almost finished the book, if I’d found it earlier I think my reading experience would have been quite different and less confusing! Another aspect that added to this confusion was the overall structure of the book. The structure of chapters meant that you flick back and forth between different groups of characters within each chapter and you have to orient yourself in these quick changes, but I did get used to it as the book went on! However, overall I loved the structure, it was completely chronological, the only chapter separations being which day of the week that part of the story occurred. I really enjoyed this as by each chapter following a full day it really gave a good sense of how busy or hectic everything was as the chapters varied in length and intensity, whereas with standard chapters they’re normally relatively equal lengths and similar amounts happen in each chapter.

Overall I thought this was a fantastic book and a really original take on a technological thriller! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has either an interest in technology or thrillers as this will definitely cater to both groups!

– Maddie Browse

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