Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling

“I have no idea why I finished this. Maybe because I received it for free to review and felt guilty abandoning it early?”

Review by Rayleigh Setser

In a near-future northern settlement, a handful of climate change survivors find their fates intertwined in this mesmerizing and transportive novel in the vein of Station Eleven and The Power.

In the far north of Canada sits Camp Zero, an American building project hiding many secrets.

Desperate to help her climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother, Rose agrees to travel to Camp Zero and spy on its architect in exchange for housing. She arrives at the same time as another newcomer, a college professor named Grant who is determined to flee his wealthy family’s dark legacy. Gradually, they realize that there is more to the architect than previously thought, and a disturbing mystery lurks beneath the surface of the camp. At the same time, rumors abound of an elite group of women soldiers living and working at a nearby Cold War-era climate research station. What are they doing there? And who is leading them?

An electrifying page-turner where nothing is as it seems, Camp Zero cleverly explores how the intersection of gender, class, and migration will impact who and what will survive in a warming world.

Release Date: 3/30/2023

Genre: Dystopian / Sci-Fi

Pages: 304

I received this book for free via Edelweiss. All comments and opinions are entirely my own and this review is voluntary.

Note: I hesitated posting this review because it is so unlike what we usually read, however the only reason that I picked it up to begin with is because I read the blurb and it SOUNDS like something I would enjoy. In addition to the attention it's been getting on Goodreads, I thought it might be a good idea to post the review to inform others who may have a similar taste as I do. So, onto the review! 

*crickets chirping*

I have no idea why I finished this. Maybe because I received it for free to review and felt guilty abandoning it early? Maybe because I hoped that the resolution would be worth the cringe? I don't know. I just know that I wish I had stopped reading it back at 20% as I felt I should.

There is so much to unpack with this, so I'll start with why I think I kept reading: I liked Grant. And I was curious about what secrets Camp Zero held. There is a truly masterful undertone of suspense in this book. I felt bored throughout most of the story because of how slowly it moved, but the curiosity of what the camp was, the mystery shrouding all of the characters, and the heaviness of the world, all of it together just kept reeling me in. I had to know what happened, even though every revelation and new plot development left me even more appalled than I already was. Truly, this writing is unlike anything I've ever encountered. A slow burn suspense with a plot twist that repulsed me; I've never read anything like it.

However, personally, I almost dropped this book several different times. First, I feel like the main character's job should've been disclosed in the blurb because had I known that she were a "pleasure" worker, I would've known right away that this book wouldn't have been for me. As the blurb is now, I was quite shocked by her career of choice, though I do have to say that I was surprised at how "clean" the s*xual content is in light of that. There are conversations about her work and a couple of very brief, dry descriptions, but there is no on-page spice. So, I chose to honor my pledge to finish and review the book and skipped over the parts that made me uncomfortable while just focusing on the story.

I think my biggest reason for disliking this book is the doom and gloom feeling of everything. It was an incredibly depressing book and felt to me like a "all men are evil s*x fanatics and deserve to die" message. I'm all for women-empowerment stories and men paying for their evil deeds, but this one just painted such a focus on the darkness in our world that even the "good" male characters were roped into the same categories as the "bad" ones. And call me naive, but I know that there are still a lot of really good men left in the world.

Upon finishing the book, I just didn't feel satisfied with the plot. There were a lot of implied resolutions, but no absolutes, and honestly that just frustrated me.

Overall, I don't think I'll forget reading this book which is a compliment to the writer, but it's not a book that I would ever recommend to my circle of friends. And as I said earlier, I'm still shocked that I actually finished it. 

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Content Ratings:

Action & Gore:

Rating: 8 out of 10.
8. Intense gore (action scenes take a bit of a morbid turn here with abnormal deaths that are prolonged and detailed).

Romance & Spice:

Rating: 7 out of 10.
7.  See below descriptions under "Trigger Warnings".

Cursing & Vulgarity:

Rating: 7 out of 10.
7. Intense cursing (all words used frequently).

Other Trigger Warnings:

Content warnings: Would be rated R if it were a movie. Cursing is very, very high. Gore is present, but not overly detailed. The nature of the deaths are more barbaric and disturbing, however. S*xual content is very present and talked about frequently in the nature of the characters’ jobs, however, there are two mildly descriptive on-page scenes. Other topic warnings would be r*pe, child death, s*xual discrimination, racial discrimination, etc.

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