Sunday, April 5, 2015

REVIEW: Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): YA, Science Fiction
Series: Zenn Scarlett # 1
Awards: None
Format: Ebook - owned
Narrated by: NA

As soon as I read the blurb for this series – that it was about a girl training to be an exoveterinarian, someone who cares for alien creatures – I was excited to read it.   Exoveterinary medicine drew me to the book and I did in fact love everything to do with the description, treatment and care of alien creatures, however, it also had a number of elements that didn’t quite click.  So overall I only liked the book, didn’t love it – 3 star book.

When she was still a child, Zenn’s mother who was an exoveterinarian, was killed while working inside an enormous alien creature.  Despite this, Zenn has always known she wished to follow in her mother (and uncle’s) footsteps. She is studying to do so at her uncle’s cloisters (I don’t think it is ever explained why it’s modeled on a monastery) on Mars, where she is the only student, and is entering the latter part of her schooling which requires her to pass some practical tests in order to go on to the next level.  It is difficult for her to concentrate on her tests however because the other colonists on Mars aren’t fond of the school/exovet clinic or really anything that didn’t originate from Earth and she suspects them of causing trouble with the animals. On top of that she has started to experience a weird phenonmenon where she thinks she can see inside the animal’s minds; see what they see and feel what they feel.  It’s making her clumsy and is jeopardizing her chances to move forward with her studies.  She must figure out what is going on, in order to get her life back on track.

As I mentioned above, I loved the idea behind this book and Schoon displays his imagination in dreaming up the alien creatures, many of them immense, and the veterinary techniques that must be used to treat them.  Everything related to the care and treatment is realistically portrayed and was completely fascinating.  To fix internal issues in some of the large creatures, the vet must enter the creature’s body and travel around its systems in a small capsule.  This whole component was by far my favorite part of the book and also the best done in my opinion.

Zenn is a fine character; she’s believable and for the most part makes a good protagonist.  I like how driven and ambitious she is and her policy on making friends (don’t) makes sense considering her isolated upbringing and the death of her mother.  She’s not too perfect; she’s a snob about the other colonists (who are painted as ignorant yokels) and a bit of a know-it-all.  I appreciate that instead of hiding her strange communing with the animals and her suspicions of sabotage as might be done in other YA books, she actually does tell people, including her uncle and nobody believes her.  This book did fall into my adult-reading-YA centric complaint of holding up a teenager as wiser than the adults.  Zenn’s uncle Otho is criminally clueless, obstinately so, about her and the situation on the planet throughout the book mostly as a plot device to set up unbelievable situations.

Unfortunately, there were also a number of weaknesses that ended up getting in the way of me loving the book.  The tone is a little uneven.  The issue of xeno-phobia is a major theme of the book and it is presented with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer.  It was made painfully and simplistically obvious which I didn’t think was necessary for a teen audience so it occasionally read much younger.  All of the other characters outside of Zenn were cardboard cut-outs particularly the yokel villagers.  They were clich├ęs and not interesting at all.  The “romance” had zero chemistry between Zenn and her love interest which seem more like acquaintances, so nothing that happens between them had any emotional resonance for me. This may be something that is developed more fully in book two.  Finally I thought this book would have been more enjoyable with the addition of some humor but Zenn is very serious minded so everything is a bit dire and humorless.  This was especially disappointing as the author lists his writing influence as Douglas Adams. 

FINAL VERDICT:  It was a book that had some great potential but fell down in some key areas so that for me it ended up being just okay.  On the fence about reading book two. 3 out of 5 stars.   
Read Harder Challenge #4 - A Book Published by an Indie Press

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