Received from Publisher for Review
Paperback 304 pages
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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.
So characters. I love characters and there are some characters in this novel! Zenn is one, the main one and for the most part is a likable character. She loves the animals at the Cloister and learning how to take care of them is her focus, the only focus she has. She has closed herself off to people, understandably so- she watched her mother die in an accident with one of the giant Indra's that fuel the starships that travel the galaxies when she was a young girl. And her father has traveled to a far away post doing something secretive. He hasn't been in touch in months. Her Rule is to not get close to anyone because they'll end up dying or leaving or disappointing you. She has no friends her age. So if she is a little animal centric, we can understand why. If she pushes away the cute "towner", Liam, who seems to be showing some interest in her we can understand. But she acts like a thirteen year old and it's kind of hilarious. "Is he flirting?" "Does he like me? I think he does." "Wait is he trying to ask me out" All those awkward moments at seventeen that most of us experienced at a much younger age seem so funny to watch her experience, but it does still bring on the butterflies. Zenn doesn't deserve to be alone. She needs friends, a boyfriend perhaps.
But someone to talk to that is close to her age. She doesn't even know how to act around kids her age. Her one soft spot is a Rikkaset (a cat like creature that has chameleon like qualities) she named Katie and is her pet. She shows her human side to Katie when she won't let her guard down with anyone else. And though I love how tough she is, I'd love for her to trust someone (Liam) with the more vulnerable side of her.
Liam- We only get small glimpses of Liam, but they endear him to us right away. Even when he's bad, he's good. Obviously he is more self assured on the outside than he is on the inside. There is a particularly sweet and heartbreaking scene with him and his cat that will make you absolutely know, no matter what, that anyone that can love his pet that much is not a bad person. Maybe makes mistakes, but down deep is a good guy. I liked Liam from the start.
The Towners including the members of the Council- Don't like them. These are the kind of people that don't like what they don't understand. They don't like different. The animals that come to the Cloister to be treated come from planets all over the galaxies and most people blame aliens for an outbreak of a plague that killed millions on Earth. It was proven aliens didn't cause it, but small minds.... Even though the people living on Mars in the town are technically aliens.....they don't see it that way.
There are other characters, minor ones with the exception of Hamish. If you read my interview yesterday, you'll see the description of him, basically a giant beetle with a soundbox to talk to him. About 8 feet tall. He gives me the shudders when I think about what he looks like, but he's a great character with some awesome and humorous moments.
The world is fantastic. I approach Science Fiction novels with a bit of trepidation, worrying it will be too techie for me, but Christian Schoon describes animals like a Whalehound or a Sunkiller so adeptly that with a few words, you're able to understand the size, shape and nature of the animal. Most of the animals treated at the Cloister are harmless with a few exceptions. Mars is livable because of terra farming and generators that keep the air oxygenated. There are no complicated living systems. Politics are politics and Earth is refusing to do business with Mars because of some disagreements about the aliens. There are many little threads of stories going on, but not too many that you can't keep up. The biggest one in this novel is whether or not the Cloister's lease will be renewed for another five years and who is causing all the accidents at the Cloister that is starting to make them look bad and getting the attention of the Council who votes on the lease.
It all comes down to this- Zenn learns that sometimes you have to let people in and you need people. That despite misgivings and earlier assumptions and actions can be forgiven in the face of selflessness. And sometimes people don't leave, they come back. She also learns to trust her talent or power. The Cloister trouble is resolved but many more questions are raised than answered and Zenn makes some hasty decisions based on her visions. There is a lot of -"I knew it was ....." and "Why would..." and "Holy Whalehound!" You never know with a new author if they are going to kill off a character or not, especially when one disappears. I was satisfied with the ending, but definitely know I'll be picking up the sequel. And yes, there will be a sequel. It's not a cliffhanger ending, but you do know our heroes (maybe) need some luck on their side.
This is a pretty clean read. I don't remember any language, but there might have been. Certainly everything else was very clean. I'd say this novel is for anyone that likes Science Fiction even those that aren't sure if they do. It has a light romance, the kind that is slow building, starts with friendship (maybe). You just have to read it. And there are a lot of accidents with very, very large creatuares so there is a lot of action. Fast paced. I think anyone would enjoy it.
So put it on the list! You'll be sorry you missed it. And don't forget I'm doing a giveaway thanks to Amanda at Strange Chemistry. Look at the post on May 7th, the interview with Christian Schoon to find the giveaway.