Author: Christian Schoon
Series: Zenn Scarlett, #1
Release date: May 7th 2013
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Paperback, 304 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository
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....
In worldbuilding, Schoon reminded me of a kid with Play-Doh and an overactive imagination. It’s easy to feel the joy with which he created each of his creatures, from Zenn’s tiny rikkaset Katie to the Kirian sunkiller. Although impressive, the worldbuilding is also a bit overwhelming at times. The Martian setting is completely foreign, there’s nothing familiar to hold on to and it’s quite disorienting at first. Even now I don’t have a clear picture of the Universe as Zenn knows it, but hopefully this will change in the next installment.
”The native life forms on Mars all died out long before humans came. We’re all aliens here. That’s why it drives me crazy when Graad and the others complain about the cloister’s patients. Calling them monsters. Calling them alien ‘things’ and saying they don’t belong. They belong here as much as we do.”*
Third person limited narration is never my favorite, and I think I would have enjoyed Zenn’s story more if it were told in first person. As it was, I can’t say that I experienced a strong emotional connection, although I did admire Zenn's determination and courage. She also seemed a bit young for her sixteen years, which I suppose can be explained by her isolation in the cloister. It’s no wonder she was immediately (and a bit naively) attracted to Liam, a townie boy who started showing up at the cloister to help with the animals. She and Liam developed a tentative friendship and an odd sort of relationship, with just a hint of romance between them.
The plot takes a while to pick up. Combined with the rather complicated worldbuilding, it might be a bit challenging for a less patient reader. The mystery seemed pretty straightforward the entire time, but in the end, it wasn’t anything I thought it would be. I love it when I’m absolutely convinced I have everything figured out, only to be proven utterly wrong in the last few chapters.
Schoon daringly weaved a tale that is richly imaginative and breathtakingly original. Zenn Scarlett is perfect for younger YA and middle grade readers, but older audience will find much to love about our red-haired heroine and her cloister on the Red Planet.
*Quote taken from an uncorrected proof and might be changed in the final version.