Reading level: Young adult
Trade paperback: 304 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release date: May 7, 2013
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Reviewed by: Jenn
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.
But after a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school and other near-disasters, the Cloister is in real danger of being shut down by a group of alien-hating officials. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the creatures she loves.
Now, she must unravel the baffling events plaguing her school, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she cares about is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve this mystery – and live to tell about it – Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.
I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I started ZENN SCARLETT but I'm sure glad I gave it a try. ZENN SCARLETT is a really interesting coming-of-age-in-space story with great characters, a cool setting, and plot threads that will capture your imagination.
ZENN SCARLETT is like a breath of fresh air. I'm not terribly well-versed on science fiction so there may be similar books out there but this is the first time I've read something like this and I found it to be really interesting. Zenn is in training to be an exoveterinarian (a vet for alien creatures). She lives on a cloister on Mars with her uncle, training as his apprentice and preparing for her exams. It's a fairly idyllic existence but there are problems: Zenn's mother died in a major accident while doing her job as an exoveterinarian and Zenn's father took off in the throes of grief, plus there are strange accidents happening at the cloister. It's great setting and I loved getting familiar with Zenn and her environment. Her life in the cloister is busy since she's got a lot to learn but I found the day-to-day routine pretty interesting. The cloister runs a lot like a farm and Schoon does a great job of creating a sense of place even in such an alien landscape. In fact, What I like most about ZENN SCARLETT are the setting and the detail that goes into the xenobiology. There are all sorts of interesting species and I felt completely immersed in the novel.
In terms of characters, I liked Zenn. She's very much a teenager but I think Schoon does a great job of giving her a good sense of herself and some maturity. Zenn is really dedicated to her career, something we don't always see in YA novels. She's so completely focussed on her studies and her desire to become a great exovet that it's basically consumed her life. She has no time or interest in romance, which makes her nicely different from the boy-crazy characters that can plague the literature. ZENN SCARLETT has a potential romantic interest but it's not the focus of the novel. My other favourite characters were Hamish, one of the employees on the cloister, and Katie, Zenn's pet rikkaset, a sort of fluffy chameleon-like creature. I wasn't as fussy about Zenn's uncle but he's written as rather unapproachable so I expect I'm not alone in this one.
The last part of the novel really builds the scope of the world, but I don't want to talk about that too much to avoid spoilers. I will say that the book ends in a way that has me very curious about what will happen next. ZENN SCARLETT is a strong debut for Schoon, set in an interesting world and full of great mythology. And it's got one of the prettiest covers I've seen in a while! How can you not check this out?