Publisher: Strange Chemistry
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...
More than anything Zenn wants to be an exovet so she can look after and care for all the strange and unusual aliens creatures found across the solar system. Unfortunately her dreams are endangered by the situation on Mars particularly local residents who object to having a cloister full of ‘monsters’ just down the road.
Zenn is a nice character – determined and slightly lonely, but bright and genuinely cares about the creatures she works with. Her friend, Hamish the giant bug is a wonderful character who is struggling to adjust to human society compared to his own hive-like world. However, I found some of the other characters a little flat. The locals sudden dislike of the cloister and it’s residents doesn’t feel motivated by much - it feels like a very superficial dislike and Zenn’s uncle is just a distant caring authority figure who doesn’t really develop a personality. Her love interest Liam is also a little flat to me. However, considering this is a teen book I can forgive some of these elements as morals to impart consider what else is happening.
And there is much happening in this story with multiply sub-plots with the obligatory teen romance, the locals dislike of the cloister and the animals under their care, Zenn’s strange affinity for the animals, her Mother’s death, the political situation between Earth and Mars and the missing interstellar spaceships. However, it doesn’t feel crowded with the pace unfolding at a steady rate and little hints and breadcrumbs from each plot dropped carefully throughout the story. This weaving of the story lines is very good if you are a little bored with one type of story - personally Teen romance just doesn’t push my buttons much these days so I was happy that even this area was linked to the locals dislike of the cloister. I’m really intrigued with the disappearing spaceships and what happened to Zenn’s Mother and both of these areas are teased and hinted at but not resolved – awaiting the sequel to find out more!
The writing is very competent and the fantastic description of these truly alien creatures and how they actually work is wonderfully done. These creatures do add a lot of colour and vibrancy to the story and really makes Zenn stand out from other YA stories at the moment. Overall, I enjoyed the plots and pacing and the unusual setting even if some parts of the characters and plots are a little generic. Looking forward to seeing what the wider worlds hold for Zenn though and will definitely be picking up the sequel
Recommended for fans of Laura Lam and Sarah Alderson. 8 out of 10