Author: Christian Schoon
Series: Zenn Scarlett #1
Genre: Teen Science Fiction
The Rating: 3/5 stars
The Overview: When you’re studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school… is a different kind of animal. Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she’s learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she’s feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn’t enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she’s started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can’t deny what she’s feeling.
Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what’s happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she’s actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients… or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year….
Because I thoroughly enjoy reading about animals, space, and people learning about things that don’t exist in our reality, I actually enjoyed several elements of this novel. The creatures Zenn took care of were creative and interesting, and I liked how each one had unique biological makeups and temperaments. The medical references on how to treat each animal were also fascinating – I was convinced that either the author knew a bit about veterinary care, or did his research. Overall, I really feel like I got to walk in the shoes of and “exovet,” a career I certainly will never have the chance to experience.
While enjoyable, I think there were some key elements missing from this story – elements that would have taken an enjoyable read into an epic one: conflict and world-building.
I talk about conflict a lot because without it, you really don’t have much of a story. Conflicts are what promotes growth and change in characters and gives readers reasons to stay put and find out how they cope. External conflicts are great for moving your story along and placing outside influence on your characters, but it is the internal conflicts that make characters more relatable and draw the audience in emotionally. There were a ton of external conflicts here (which were fun in their own right) but there wasn’t any internal exploration to give it all meaning and purpose. It’s probably why I’m left feeling like the story didn’t go anywhere – the character grew very little throughout the story and was basically in the same state at the end as she was at the beginning. That’s not to say the internal conflicts weren’t there – I could see what they were supposed to be – they just weren’t explored or expanded on in any way that drew me in as a reader.
As far as world-building is concerned, I’ll start out by saying I enjoyed many elements in this category (most notably, the overall concept for the story) but there were a few things that needed some work. For example, the economic and political workings of this Mars settlement were a bit thin. Even taking into account that it’s a relatively new establishment compared to that of Earth’s, the conflicts presented in this book should have been a lot more complex and thorough. However, because that wasn’t the real focus of story, I turned a bit of a blind eye to it while reading. Upon reflection, however, I think more time spent developing and enriching the new culture would have enhanced the quality of the story significantly.
Overall, there were several great ideas and concepts here, but also quite a few things holding it back. Maybe it was the cover, but I expected quite a bit more adventure from this novel. The universe is endless with possibilities but the plot here was was rather narrow-focused. I also saw several minor story holes and weak plot points that could have been fixed with basic writing tricks (which included fixing really odd chapter breaks with stronger transitionary sentences and “hooks”). In any case, I enjoyed it but I wish the author had developed it a little further before publishing because I think a few changes could have made it epic.
Recommendations: You don’t see a lot of teen science fiction books, so if you’re in the mood for something “out there” this might suit your craving. It was also neat to experience a day in the life of an exovet – a career that I would consider in an alternate universe, and by far my favorite element of the story. However, if you’re looking for something a little more robust and engaging, this might not be the novel for you.
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