Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Published: May 7th 2013, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot Books)
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Science Fiction, YA, Mystery
Where Did I Get It? eARC received from NetGalley for review
Summary (from NetGalley):
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.
But after a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school and other near-disasters, the Cloister is in real danger of being shut down by a group of alien-hating officials. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the creatures she loves.
Now, she must unravel the baffling events plaguing her school, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she cares about is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve this mystery – and live to tell about it – Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.
Wind clawed at the canvas tarp covering Zenn in the cargo bed of the ancient pickup truck.
I loved Zenn Scarlett for a number of reasons:
The characters were brilliant. Being set on Mars there was a mixture of human and alien characters and all were described and portrayed with skill and finesse. I knew what they all looked like, even the more unusual ones, thanks to Schoon’s descriptions which built up as you went along. There were no real info-dumps of ‘this type of alien looks like this and acts like this’, just drip-feedings of history and phsysical descriptions through the action that let you build your own picture of them in your mind.
They all had strong personalities and developed through the book. I particularly liked Liam, his character development through the story was clever as you discovered more about him and how he came to be the person he is. There were moments where I wanted to slap him for being an idiot, shake him for being blind to the obvious, hug him for being brilliant and applaude him for making the right choices at the right moments – any character that elicits so many emotional responses is a hit in my mind.
The world building was equally fantastic. The images in my mind of Mars slowly dilapidating after the Rift with Earth and their supplies were fantastic and real. The politics around the Rift were complex enough to be intruging but not so baffling as to put me off (I’m really not a big politics fan) and were essential to the story rather than an unimportant aside. Cleverly woven through the characters stories it became a mystery in itself and is one of the things leaving you gagging for the next book – you need to see how it all turns out in the end.
The creatures that Zenn works with are all works of art. I desperately wanted to be a vet as a child and this played on that love beautifully. The alien species were just the right balance of familiar and unknown to feel realistic. Schoon was very clever in his descriptions, using familiar things to describe wholly unfamiliar creatures to fanistic effect. For example, his description of a ‘seepdemon’ begins with the following: ‘About the size of a large sofa, the seepdemon could alter the form of her gelatinous, amoeba-like body at will, allowing her to flatten out like a carpet, roll up into a ball or stretch herself out as thin as wire…’ Simple description, used brilliantly.
The level of detail was also amazing, when Zenn has to treat a cat, an animal we are all familiar with, the process was carefully done as accurately as you could wish – it was a bit like watching a future production of Animal Hospital in your own head.
All of this brilliant writing is brought together in an exciting story that turns your ‘I’ll just read a chapter in the bath’ into ‘Oh, the water’s gone cold and I’m 75% through the book’ and leaves you frustrated at the end because you can’t start book two yet.
I was won over by Zenn Scarlett‘s beautiful front cover and wasn’t disappointed at all by the story inside. I will definitely be waiting impatiently for the next installment to be released.
My Rating: 5/5*