Phantom Wheel by Tracy Deebs (ARC): Hackers and Action, Sci-Fi and Corporations


3.5 stars

Believing they have been recruited by the CIA, six teen hackers arrive in LA for a hacking aptitude test with the promise of a college scholarship and a job with the CIA after graduation.

But one of the teens, Owen, walks out, refusing to participate. The other five complete the tests, but when they finish they leave feeling unnerved.

And when they receive a text from Owen weeks later, they find out he’s uncovered evidence that the hackers unknowingly created “Phantom Wheel,” the most devastating virus ever made. Jacento, the corporation behind it all, plans to use this virus to gain unprecedented access to personal data as only the beginning.

The six teens must work together to stop Jacento and the monster they unknowingly created before it’s too late.

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If you’re like me and you love anything science-y tech-y, especially books about hackers (even though it’s not technically sci-fi), then you’ll definitely want to pick up Deebs’ latest novel, Phantom Wheel.

What I loved about this was all the science and the tech and it was like a totally geek out book for me. I can say right off the bat that this book isn’t for everyone if you don’t feel gripped by coding jargon mixed with action.

But I personally adored this sort of action/adventure novel, and I found it to be a really good mix of geekiness (with the coding and hacking) and action packed run-for-your-lives adventure.

They were not only doing cool coding stuff I didn’t really understand but accepted anyways, but they were also being hunted by a big bad corporation, which is fun!

Phantom Wheel was definitely engaging and action packed and I book I devoured in one day (the day I’m writing this review, in fact).

But I did think it wasn’t perfect and it definitely had its flaws, outside of the obvious lack of appeal for a lot of people who don’t like this tech-y sort of book.

There were two main issues I had with this, and both are honestly pretty minor when you looked at the sheer amount of entertainment I got from this book.

But, first off, the plot felt really basic and could use more complexity and twists. Like, there was zero complexity to the antagonist of the big corporation and they ended up falling into the “big bad corporation who wants world domination trope,” which was kind of meh.

I was hoping for something a little more nuanced and morally gray and complex with the antagonist of the story, but we ultimately did not get that in Phantom Wheel.

And similarly…y’all. These kids are not the brightest with common sense (except Owen). They get duped by a company to write them really vicious code under the pretense of being “recruited for the CIA.”

Sure, it’s explained that some characters were “blinded by their desire for a scholarship” and whatnot because they needed the money and support, but it still was such a fishy situation and this all could have been avoided if they used an ounce more common sense than they actually did.

Which brings me to the second issue, which was the characters were barely relatable and hard to distinguish.

I mean, 4/6 of these characters are rich kids, and so that already kind of puts a divide between us. But they all just sort of…lacked that emotional connection, and I feel like that was largely because of the sheer number of protagonists (6!) as well as the fact that this is a really action-based book.

Secondly, like I said, there were 6 main characters, even though there’s actually only 3 points of view (one for each couple). It took me at least half the book to realize there were only 3 points of view, Owen, Issa, and the girl whose name starts with an H that has already escaped me, 8 hours after I finished reading. Oops.

It’s good to note that by the end of the story I could tell who was who (they have little epistolary case files scattered in the book), but for the beginning half I was definitely a little fuzzy on who was who, and had to keep referring to the beginning of the chapter for the POV a lot of the time (especially between Issa and the H-girl).

In the end, Phantom Wheel satisfied my craving for an action packed hacker read, and for that I applaud it. If you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in and hopefully not stress too much about, I’d recommend this.

But if you’re looking for your next perfect read, maybe take a pass.

Thank you so much to The NOVL for sending me an advance reader’s copy as a LBYR Partner in exchange for an honest review!

much love, vicky

Have you read any books about hackers? If so, which ones, and which are you excited for?

(I’m also excited for Immoral Code by Lillian Clark which is coming in 2019 that I have an ARC for!)


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