Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon is the latest YA release from Strange Chemistry - an excellent feel-good sci-fi novel about an exoveterinary clinic on Mars that specializes in the treatment of alien animals. This is the first book in a series, it has a big cliff-hanger ending, but it also has enough closure to leave you feeling satisfied at the end. Oh, and that book cover. Wow.
The story follows young Zenn Scarlett and her training to become an exoveterinarian. The alien animals she cares for are amongst the weirdest, wildest and largest animals in the galaxy – it’s dangerous work but Zenn couldn't imagine doing anything else. Life in their small community on Mars is not without its issues, especially since Earth decided to cut itself off from all external contact. The town folk and the farmers are running out of resources, they are scared of the alien animals being housed so close to them, and the sooner they get rid of that exoveterinary clinic, the better.
Schoon has crafted a detailed and exciting futuristic world full of spectacular aliens and intergalactic travel. The early view we get from Zenn's perspective makes everything seem so grand and peaceful, but we quickly find out that this is a rather sheltered view and not reflective of how the world actually is. In the background we find out that the Martian societies have been abandoned by Earth, they are full of fear and loathing of just about everything, and their desperate position makes them easily manipulated. Zenn and her family cling to their idealism, they cling to hope, and the contrast between these two different world views was quite fascinating.
This novel has a very tight focus on Zenn, and while other characters are fleshed out with their own personalities and motivations, we don't get to view them in as much depth as we do Zenn. As a lead character I found Zenn to be equal parts likeable, interesting and frustrating. She is highly motivated, confident, intelligent, adept, and solely focused on her training, but this prevents the cultivation of any relationships around her. The death of her mother and subsequent actions of her father have made her independent and unwilling to let anyone else in, and because of this she treats most of her interactions with townsfolk as suspicious. You just want her to make friends with people, to have some fun, to be a teenage girl, and its frustrating to see that any progress in her character is followed by a reversion / reinforcement of her independence. She is likeable, the other characters like her too, and hopefully we get to see her grow as the series progresses.
Zenn Scarlett is right up there with Ender's Game, Partials and Katya's World as one of my favourite YA sci-fi novels. Zenn Scarlett is a book that I think will appeal to a broad range of readers, whether you're new to sci-fi or not.
Review by Ryan Lawler
9/10 from 1 reviews
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