Kirsten Reviews: Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Zenn Scarlet by Christian Schoon
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....
Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon combines YA and science fiction in a way that will appeal to readers of both genres as well as anybody that is fond of animals. The book’s strengths are based on the worldbuilding, Martian lifestyle, and characterization. Anybody who has ever been interested in Mars won’t be surprised that it’s hazardous to live there, but they’ll find that the creatures an exovet treats (somebody who handles alien animals) and looks after are both varied and sometimes dangerous. Not only that, but people can travel through space, all thanks to the aliens.
Zenn, the protagonist sometimes talks before she thinks, and she knows what she wants and doesn’t hesitate to go after it. It makes her a lot of fun, and also means there isn’t much romance in this YA book. Of course, there is a boy who’s interested in Zenn, but she doesn’t notice his interest, or have time to chase after them, and in fact, tells them off more than anything else. She’s not mean, just driven, and it’s refreshing to see a heroine with such a clear goal that she won’t let go of, and have it not be some grand master plan. The story’s scale isn’t ‘saving the universe,’ but it gets bigger throughout the course of the book. She’s determined to be an exovet, and also discover what happened to her mother, and why her father left the planet. That put Zenn in a position to be raised by her uncle, who she sometimes disagrees with, but that’s a normal part of being a teenager, and it’s understandable, considering the family’s losses.
Even more sci-fi elements are introduced as Zenn turns out to have an interesting ‘gift’ or connection with the creatures that she cares for, and then there’s the matter of the clinic where Zenn works being in trouble because of the Earth and Maritan politics. Rural communities are being forced to change, and even move in order to cope. Anybody not human is viewed with trepidation, and even suspicion, and even in a place where they are the intruders, people can be xenophobic and feel they’re in the right. As one might expect, this has consequences, and sooner or later, somebody is going to say or do the wrong thing.
In a book with concepts and canvas this broad, it would be a sad thing if the author didn’t expand on them, and as the book winds down, there are several ideas played out that will be picked up in the sequel. This is a definite plus, as the story fills the pages well enough that readers will want to see it built on in much more detail.