Seventeen year-old Carr Luka is rocketing his way to the top of a hot new sport. Zeroboxing takes place in an enclosed arena, the Cube. Opponents face off in hand-to-hand combat in zero gravity. Winning fights is the only thing that will save Carr from being sent back to earth to work clubs as a low-rent fighter, scraping through the muck of poverty. When an opportunity to become an elite Zeroboxer, a poster child for the sport complete with endorsements and his own marketing team, Carr seizes the opportunity with both fists. His exotic Martian marketing manager steals his breath and then his heart. Just as his dreams of stardom and a glorious future seem to be within his grasp, a stranger corners Carr with a devastating secret, one that will shatter every one of his dreams and ban him from the only life he’s known. Carr must choose to bury his secret or forsake his dreams.
Honestly, I was a little nervous about reading this book. Its sci-fi elements intrigued me, but I’m not a big fan of boxing as a sport, so I wasn’t sure if the terminology would be confusing or the topic uninteresting. Plus, boxing in space? How does that work?
However – Lee totally delivers. It’s like Ender’s Game style training matches meets boxing. I loved it. Lee’s clear writing paints great visuals of the boxing matches and really drives up the intensity of those scenes.
In addition, there’s a complex story world in which Mars has been colonized and is now occupied by humans who are genetically altered for life on the red planet. Generations after the colonization, deep animosity exists between Martians and Terrans (people from Earth.) Which really seems so true to human fallibility: both groups came from the same people, but now their differences divide them. Really fascinating stuff.
Lee also explores the morality of gene therapy and genetic manipulation. We’ve seen this where it comes to clones and soldiers, but how cool to bring these issues to the sports arena. If someone is genetically enhanced, does that offer an unfair advantage in sports competition, the way that the use of steroids does? Great theme.
All-around, this was a deeply thought-out, well-executed story. Though Carr is seventeen at the start of the novel, to me it reads more like new adult than young adult literature because of the issues Carr faces. He’s a career man, not a student, living independently and making all adult choices. High school aged readers would probably still enjoy the story.
Extreme profanity, infrequent use.
Kissing and brief references to sex – commenting on past experiences and brief description of present sexual situations.
Carr fights several other zeroboxers during the course of the story and KO’s one very rude civilian. Descriptions of the fights are not super gory – you definitely know what’s happening, but there’s not a lot of glorification of the injuries or pain or anything like that.
Carr attends some pretty wild after-parties following victorious fights. Usually he doesn’t drink alcohol and avoids a lot of the crazy stuff, so there’s not much description there. He does lose it and get drunk alone one night, but regrets it later.