Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: Zenn Scarlett

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....

Right off the bat I think I should make it clear that while exciting things do happen in this book, this is largely a day to day accounting of what its like to be a novice exoveterinarian (exovet).  Zenn is an engaging, if sometimes a bit too clinical, main character who grew up around practical people living in a harsh environment.  While she worries about what's going on with her, those are secondary to the very real problems she's facing each day.

This sort of narrative tact can be frustrating at first.  As a reader we can see a larger picture than the characters so when something happens that's obviously much more serious than the characters are giving it credit for, it can get irritating.

This happened a lot to me, especially in the beginning.  Otha, Zenn's Uncle (and only actual family present), dismisses everything Zenn says to the point where Zenn wonders if she is just going crazy.  Its not to say he doesn't make logical points, but the logical points serve no purpose.  We know that Zenn is experiencing something 'supernatural'.  We know that Zenn is not to be blamed for the mistakes occurring.  There's no belief of tension at all.

Schoon is not subtle.  Whether because Zenn is naturally paranoid or clumsy writing, who's at fault for almost everything is apparent pretty quickly and the motivation behind it clicks about half way through.  This again leads to a sort of simmering frustration as everyone tiptoes around the obvious.  The world is fascinating--its very 'wild west'/frontier oriented, but the cloister and its wild aliens make it interesting.

I liked Fane quite a bit.  Yes he was a jerk, but its not like Zenn was making many friends with her attitude (which given her environment its a wonder she can talk to anyone at all).  I loved Hamish--I look forward to seeing more of his 'independent thinking'. Schoon is careful to keep romance a very small part of this novel.  Zenn doesn't really understand it and at any rate is too busy wondering if she's gone insane or if she'll fail her three tests.

Overall this was an interesting if uneven read for me.  I'm hoping that in the next book, since Zenn won't have her exams to worry about, the book will be less concerned with the everyday minutiae and focused on Zenn's search for answers.