Zenn Scarlett has one of the prettiest covers; that sky is all manner of gorgeous oranges, reds, pinks and purples. I really liked this story, and read it in one sitting. Zenn is a studying to be a vet, well an exoveterinarian to be precise. She lives on Mars in the Ciscan Cloister. Times are tough on the red planet, but Zenn has a mission in life and she isn’t going to let anything stand in her way.
Mars is a bit of a pariah; Earth cut off supplies and communication some years ago, leaving the Martian settlers to make do and mend the best they can. The terrain in inhospitable, and even the land successfully colonised is now mostly exhausted. The Cloister is slightly removed from the worst of the problems, although they too have financial worries. Zenn is now the only student there, but they do still make some money caring for and boarding animals from all over. However, alien animals are not particularly popular amongst the rest of the colony.
Zenn is preparing for her end of year assessments, but she seems distracted and definitely not on top form. Uncharacteristic mistakes are creeping into her work, with potential devastating consequences. Zenn’s not completely convinced the errors are her own, despite the weird moments she’s having – can she actually be connecting with the animals is some way? Just when she needs to be most focused, her world is becoming increasingly chaotic and uncertain.
From the brilliant prologue we know that Zenn lost her mother in dramatic circumstances. Her father’s inability to deal his with grief has left Zenn to fend for herself emotionally. She keeps others at arm’s length, quite successfully until Liam starts helping out around the place. He’s from the Town, but appears keen to learn about the animals and how the Cloister works. He also takes a keen interest in Zenn, an interest that she might reciprocate despite herself. There’s also Hamish, a giant insectoid, who’s learning the ropes too. When the strange stuff starts happening I wasn’t sure whether either of them was trustworthy or not, and I was kept guessing until near the end of the story. I liked that uncertainty.
I think I liked the animals best: giant, almost incomprehensibly large, Indra, two-headed dragon- or pterodactyl-like Greater Kiran sunkillers, bad-tempered sandhog. And, best of all, intelligent, hyper-cute rikkaset. I loved them all, although I’m not sure how many of them I could fit into my little house. Zenn’s affection and desire to help all the creatures is evident; they are her priority at all times. She is a determined young woman, to the point of pig-headedness. Fortunately she is also brave, a quality she has to draw on as the story progresses. What starts as a little local difficulty looks to be just the tip of the iceberg.
If I have criticism of the book, it is that we are left on a major cliffhanger. I do enjoy reading series, but I thought this could have stood on it’s own if it had finished a chapter or two earlier – but still have had plenty of places to go for a second book. That’s just my desire to have things sorted out nice and neat though! I enjoyed Zenn Scarlett very much, I thought her world was a good combination of the alien and familiar, and I admired her dedication. I’m looking forward to reading the next Zenn book when it comes out.
Thanks to Strange Chemistry for sending me an advance copy to read and review. Zenn Scarlett is published 2 May 2013 in Paperback.