About the Book

Title: Zenn Scarlett (Zenn Scarlett #1)
Published: 2013
Series: Zenn Scarlett
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Cover Story: The Be Sharps
BFF Charm: Nay
Talky Talk: Exposition Overload
Bonus Factors: Space Colony, Hamish, Space Zoology
Anti-Bonus Factors: Space Zoology, Potential Sequel
Relationship Status: Match.com Date That Intrigued Me When It Wasn’t Telling Me Way Too Much About Its Highly Specific Job

Cover Story: The Be Sharps

This is one of those covers that I loved immediately (ooh, pretty celestial sky!), but liked less and less the more I looked at it (I’m generally biased against warm colour schemes). But it’s story-appropriate, even if it’s not wholly specific.

The Deal:

Zenn Scarlett is an aspiring exoveterinarian based out of the Ciscian Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars, where she’s learning how to care for intergalactic animals. But the Cloister is at risk of being shut down by alien-phobic officials, which isn’t helped by the numerous bizarre animal escapes that the school has faced lately. Zenn must uncover the truth before she and her family lose everything they care about.

BFF Charm: Nay

BFF Charm that says "denied"

For those of y’all who aren’t fans of huge animal people (i.e., me), guess what! They’ll still exist on future Mars! And Zenn is def. one of them. But it’s not that aspect of her personality that turns me off (though it certainly doesn’t help).

Zenn’s a bit of a stubborn, narrow-minded know-it-all. I mean, she’s got a closed mind about people who are generally bigots, but still. While they may be mostly jerks who don’t deserve a second thought, it’s still hypocritical to stereotype them in return.

And she’s slightly Mary Sue, in that everything’s coming up Milhouse Zenn. I can kind of buy that she’s got really good exoveterinary skills, but the whole training process is supposed to be a big lengthy deal, and yet Zenn is already super good at everything. Her biggest angst here is that people don’t realize how good she is. I just didn’t find this rather large and significant component of her life particularly interesting (more on this later).

Zenn’s also deliberately antisocial.* Sure, she does it because she’d rather avoid emotional connections altogether than lose someone she cares about — so obvs she could use a good friend to set her straight. But UGH, does it have to be ME?! I’m so not volunteering as tribute.

*To be fair, so am I. But only because I’m a crotchety curmudgeon.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There’s towner Liam Tucker, whose interest in Zenn is begrudgingly returned. It’s all very chaste and tame enemistry, because — unsurprisingly — Zenn’s love is mostly reserved for alien animals.

Talky Talk: Exposition Overload

The beauty of having a futuristic space heroine is that I have no idea what a futuristic space heroine should sound like, so Schoon gets a free pass for that. As for the universal teenage feelings, they’re not really in the forefront — so, they’re serviceable but not particularly memorable.

As a whole, this book is movie and sequel bait (the former, in the best way possible; the latter… not so much). The text is filled with rich descriptions, but mostly of made-up space critters, so it required a lot more patience than I’d usually give to sort everything out. I’m not a slow reader, and reviewing a book only adds on a few extra hours at most. But it took me more than a FULL WEEK to finish these relatively short 230-some pages. And while I wanted to finish the book (partly to be done with it, but also out of curiosity), I wasn’t really motivated to read it more than I had to, y’know?

Bonus Factor: Space Colony

Stars and lights in space

We made it to Mars, y’all! (So rest easy, NASA!) But there’s a big capitalized Rift between Earth and Mars, so the straits be dire on the red planet. This book touches upon some interesting dynamics, both inter-planet and inter-species. It’s also got an inkling of Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves/Avatar/[insert reference to bad colonists here].

Bonus Factor: Hamish

He’s def. not a drunken Victor, but this Hamish is the cloister sexton* — and oh yeah, he’s an anthropomorphic space beetle. I don’t know if it says more about me or this book that he’s my favourite character BY FAR.

Much to Zenn’s chagrin (but my delight), Hamish has typical hive mentality, so he’s unaccustomed to making ANY choices on his own. I also love him as a blank slate reader stand-in that emphasizes how xenophobic and bigoted some of the Martian settlers are.

*I just learned of the double entendre at play, which makes me like Hamish even MORE.

Bonus Factor: Space Zoology

Zenn encounters a lot of alien species in her pursuit of a career as an exoveterinarian. Schoon has obviously put a lot of care and creativity into this smorgasbord of exotic creatures.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Space Zoology

BUT. There are just SO.MANY.ANIMALS. (And how they all get to Mars is not really explained, but whatevs.) And they’re all given a little Jane Goodall treatment, regardless of their importance to, y’know, the actual story. Here’s a sampling of all the different terms I was inundated with:

  • Hooshrike
  • Rhina
  • Skirni
  • Indra
  • Sorghum (which is a real genus of grass, but damned if I knew that on my own)
  • Kipfruit
  • Sacrist

The only aliens I could remember were: Zenn’s pet, Katie; whatever Hamish is; and animals that had helpful portmanteau names, like whalehound. Because HEY, they’re mostly either characters in their own right and/or they matter to the story.

Not only is this book set on another planet, but it also requires the reader to learn a whole set of exoveterinary jargon, and a lot of superfluous jargon at that. It’s just all TMI — and not even the fun oversharing kind, where you find out someone accidentally dealt coke in high school.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Potential Sequel

I have phases with books: sometimes I want something light, and other times I may crave seriousness. I can even tolerate shitty parenting in small doses. But I’ve NEVER sought out a book thinking, “I hope this will dick around by withholding plot for another installment!”

Though to this (potential?) series’ credit, there is enough of a plot to warrant continuing the story. And I do appreciate paying attention to detail and setting up continuity. But I just wish that these elements had been in the plot of this book instead.

Relationship Status: Match.com Date That Intrigued Me When It Wasn’t Telling Me Way Too Much About Its Highly Specific Job

Book, I had high hopes for us. Our profiles seem pretty compatible, and our date showed some promise, esp. when you told me about your exciting past. But you kept steering the convo back to your work. While it’s nice that you have something you’re so clearly passionate about, I didn’t find your zeal contagious at all. Your soulmate is somewhere out there in the cosmos; it just isn’t me.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Strange Chemistry. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Zenn Scarlett is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she’s been overseeing all things FYA Book Club since 2013.