Under Nameless Stars (Zenn Scarlett #2) by Christian Schoon
Genre: Young adult science fiction
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release date: April 1 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: An exciting and worthy follow-up to Zenn Scarlett, with an assortment of loveable new characters, and lots of scientific facts that make this a believable story.
“Zenn Scarlett, can you hear me speaking?” It was Jule’s voice. She was coming back, falling down, or rising up, from wherever she had gone, returning to herself to land with a shudder in her own body. How small it now seemed, this body of moist, heated flesh and brittle bone, what a tiny, fragile thing to carry one through the merciless universe and all its worlds.
**Mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Zenn Scarlett!
Zenn Scarlett truly is one of my favorite young adult characters. I was so happy to get back into her story and find out what happened after she ended up on an orbital ferry in the atmosphere above Mars at the end of Zenn Scarlett (you can read my review here). Zenn has many fine qualities: she’s brave, smart, and kind, but she’s also an awkward teenager who has spent most of her life without the normal socialization most kids are used to. Therefore, when a boy comes into the picture, she really doesn’t know what to do with him. Schoon once again proves how inventive he is by adding a plethora of alien critters to his story, lovingly described and fantastically imagined. Add in a hefty amount of adventure and you have a winning combination.
Zenn and her friend Liam have left Mars and stowed away on a ship in order to find Zenn’s father, who has been kidnapped by a Skirni, one of the many “Ascents,” or alien sentients that populate Schoon’s world. When the story opens, they are trapped in a crate with a vicious sandhog boar, and things only get stranger from this point on. When they arrive at the space liner called the Helen of Troy, Zenn is unprepared for what awaits her. Along with a rag-tag band of new friends, Zenn must find her father, avoid the Skirni, and try to figure out the mystery behind the strange disappearances of the Indra fleet before time runs out. And use her exovet skills to save some alien animals while she’s at it!
I thought Under Nameless Stars was a perfect blend of action and adventure, character development, and humor. I was happy to see that Schoon doesn’t take the usual romantic path with this book. At the end of Zenn Scarlett, Zenn and her “towner” pal Liam seem like they might become an item, but the two are separated soon after they arrive on the Helen of Troy, and Zenn is forced to figure stuff out on her own until they meet up again. Luckily she has some awesome new friends to help her, including a dashing young soldier, and my favorite, a dolphin named Jules who wears a “walksuit” and walks around on land. I adored Jules, who quickly burrowed himself into my heart and didn’t let go. Jules says the funniest things at the most inappropriate times, especially when he and Zenn find themselves in dangerous situations. He’s also a reader of paperback novels (although where he gets them in this future society is anyone’s guess), and frequently compares his present situation to those in stories:
“A secret and hidden passage,” Jules said to Zenn. “This is an element of paper-novel mysteries! Although generally there is a moving bookcase activated by a handle on the fireplace.”
We also meet an old man named Charlie who has been hiding from the bad guys for years and helps them out of a scrape or two. Charlie has an unfortunate relationship with an artificial intelligence on the ship, and his scenes were so funny.
Once again, Schoon often takes time out from the action to describe his alien animals. I know some readers might not appreciate these detailed descriptions, as they do tend to slow things down, but I was constantly amazed at his imagination. I want to see pictures of these creatures! Because Zenn is an “exovet” in training, a veterinarian who cares for alien lifeforms, and the story is told from her perspective, these details make sense. There are several passages of dialog where the author gets some of the world-building out of the way by having Zenn explain things to another character. These scenes didn’t quite work for me, because I could clearly see the mechanics of what Schoon was trying to do. But in the long run, this device was overshadowed by the engaging story and quirky characters.
The world-building parts that did work were the endlessly fascinating descriptions of the Indra, mysterious creatures who are responsible for interstellar travel. I’m still not certain I fully understand how it all works, but I don’t care. Schoon seems to have really researched the science and physics behind his ideas, and he gives us plausible explanations about the mechanics of space travel. Tied to these ideas is the philosophical notion of whether or not we really want to find out who else is out there in the universe.
Zenn’s story wraps up neatly at the end, because I suppose technically, this is the end. I am wondering, however, what will happen next. A well-written story does that: it keeps going, even after the final page.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Check back here on March 17th for my stop on the Under Nameless Stars blog tour! I’ll have an interview with Christian and there’s a fun giveaway as well!
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