Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon #review

Title: Zenn Scarlett
Author: Christian Schoon
Publisher: Strange Chemistry, 2013

This is one of those books that I knew the moment I read the blurb that I was going to love utterly and completely. And it goes down as one of my 2013 YA reads that I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who’s into the genre.

Zenn is the kind of protagonist whose mouth is often way ahead of her brain, and for a female protagonist, she’s a breath of fresh air. This young madam knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to work very hard to get it—in this case she wants to be an exovet. You have no idea how happy it makes me to have a 17-year-old protagonist who isn’t a vapid, boy-obsessed creature. In fact, when the boys do pitch up on the scene, she’s not afraid to argue with them.

But a bit more about the world-building. Zenn has grown up in a kind of monastic order/clinic dedicated to the care of animals. And this is where Christian Schoon writes with a ring of authenticity. I spent my younger years working part-time in a veterinary clinic, and the author totally captures the atmosphere of such an environment. Animals need to be fed. Their enclosures need to be kept clean. They’re troublesome—only in this case the animals Zenn and her uncle deal with are also quite dangerous if not handled correctly—as Zenn discovers.

And you get to meet some pretty fascinating critters with bizarre appearance or super sizes that would make caring for them a real challenge—a challenge that Zenn is more than up to as she attempts to prepare for her upcoming exams.

Things aren’t all plain-sailing, however. The Martian colony where the Ciscan clinic is situated has suffered for many years due to a rift between Earth and Mars. Technology is outdated or redundant, and its failure often means a life-or-death situation for folks. The cities face massive urbanisation as people from the rural areas are forced to move to safety. Xenophobia is rife—only the humans view alien lifeforms, like the animals treated at the clinic and visiting aliens, with great suspicion. These are hard times.

Zenn is outspoken and often at loggerheads not only with her uncle, but the people around her. But she also has to solve a greater mystery: why her mother, an exovet, vanished while treating a patient, and the reason why her father left Mars to pursue answers. I like the fact that she makes mistakes, and everything is not all plain sailing for her. It makes her triumphs all that much sweeter.

The novel gets off on a bit of a slow start, but I was so fascinated by the day-to-day workings of the clinic/school and I could see the story building up its textures to something bigger, that this didn’t present a problem to me. I really just enjoyed the ride, which was kind of like Gerald Durrell meets a Star Wars bestiary with a bit of SF James Herriot thrown in for good measure. The pace picks up near the end to quite a nail-biting finish, and Schoon is clearly setting this up for a series, so be prepared for unfinished story arcs. And I’m hoping that Schoon hurries up and writes the next in the series.

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