ARC Review: Phantom Wheel

Phantom Wheel: A Hackers Novel


**I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review as a LBYRPartner. This had no influence on my thoughts and opinions.**


This was one of those books that I was honestly curious to read since I haven’t read a lot of stories about teen hackers, or hackers in general. What I read was entertaining but I often became lost in the verbiage and felt as if I should have been smart enough to follow along easily. Unfortunately I’m not a coder or a hacker so when it came to all of the coding speak, and there was a lot, I had no clue what was being said.

Short recap: Six teens who had never met before believed they were being recruited by the CIA for their impressive hacking skills. If they won, they could win a college scholarship. Pretty tempting for anyone. Only one of the six teens refused to write the code asked of him, the other five wrote with no issue. It was’t until after the “testing” did they realize they were played. They were not being recruited by the CIA or any other government agency. The largest cell/technology company had these unassuming teens write code that when put together would create the most deadly virus every created. Now they have joined forces to put a stop to the virus known as Phantom Wheel from being released.

Sounds pretty amazing, no? Well, as I mentioned it was an entertaining read but it took me far longer to finish this novel then it should have. The characters were compelling, the story line was interesting, however, it was the heavy – and I do mean heavy – use of computer/tech speak that cause my eyes to glaze over. These six teens obviously knew their stuff, but making constant references to Red Hat and Linux coding was unnecessary. That meant nothing to me. I didn’t understand why it was so important. It was never explained why these coding languages were so important or what they were. It gave me the sense that I was not smart enough to understand what was going on and I am not a fan of that type of story. No reader should ever feel that way when reading a book.

That being said, there was also an enormous info-dump during the first third of the book that did not feel logical. Sure, backstory is important but it felt like overkill here. As mentioned, there were six characters but three to four POVs. That was okay as it helped give more depth to those characters, but why not give a voice to all characters? Why just those select few? Also, there were “character assessments” sprinkled randomly throughout the story but it wasn’t revealed who was compiling these assessments until the very end of the story. When the person was outed, it did not feel like a masterful reveal that blew my hair back. Instead, it caused me to say, “But… why?”

The pacing of the story itself felt a little off. There were sections that moved at lighting speed while others felt they lasted the length of the book. It was probably just me but the parts where the teens were coding felt to drag on, maybe because I didn’t understand half of what they were talking about or doing. When the story was coming to conclusion, things simply rocketed and the story was over. The ending felt incredibly rushed and wrapped up in a few pages. That did not sit well with me because it did not feel resolved. Maybe it is setting up for a sequel, I’m not sure but I know how I felt about what I read.

Overall, I was able to finish the story but this is not one I plan to ever read again. If you are curious, I urge you to give this one a try. It just did not work for me but that doesn’t mean you might not enjoy it.