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Radiant Shadows

Zenn Scarlett (Strange Chemistry)

Zenn Scarlett - Christian Schoon Vastly imaginative and ambitious in scope, Zenn Scarlett was a treat for my inner sci-fi fan. With exotic alien species, the colonization of Mars and a feud between Earth and the rest of the universe, there was a lot to learn, which was slightly overwhelming at first, but also fascinating. As Zenn Scarlett progressed however, I found that most information was given through info-dumped filled conversations between Zenn and the cloister’s Sexton, Hamish, and that the mystery surrounding the freak accidents was quite predictable.Easily one of the most thorough and imaginative science-fiction/dystopian reads I’ve read this year, Zenn Scarlett didn’t hold back! From day-to-day life on Mars, to the creation of The Rift between Earth and the rest of the Universe, to the descriptions of the various alien animals, to the veterinary procedures Zenn was tasked with completing, not a detail was left untouched! There were pieces that were reminiscent of our current Earth, enough to give everything a sense of familiarity, but there was so much that was new and exciting that I read vigorously for the first few chapters in order to soak it all in. On the other hand though, there was so much information presented so quickly, that I did find myself struggling to keep up with the various terms and history being thrown my way. So while I appreciated this new, futuristic world that Zenn Scarlett presented, it did take me about half of the book to become comfortable with the new terminology and for me to get a good grasp on the history of Mars and its colonization, space travel, and the role of exovets.Zenn was an incredibly naive protagonist. Having been sheltered her whole life, confined to within the cloister’s walls unless she was with her uncle or father, and having grown up without the companionship of anyone her own age, she was inexperienced with almost everything that didn’t involve being an exovet. Having grown up surrounded by alien animals, she was extremely passionate and opinionated about their place in the universe, using every and any opportunity to try and enlighten the towners.But you see what I mean, don’t you? Human beings get this idea in their heads that they’re the special ones – the only ones who get to say who’s normal and who’s…just a thing. Think about if the show was on the other foot. And someone decides you’re the thing.But, sometimes her passion was overwhelming, turning a completely valid point into something I struggled not to skim as she became quite self-righteous, or holier-than-thou. While I often found myself agreeing with her, she didn’t always when to know when to let the argument drop, when to just back down and accept that she wasn’t going to be able to change a lifetime of intolerance with a few persuasive remarks.Zenn Scarlett’s plot was one I sometimes struggled with. As I said earlier, I was completely caught up by the world-building at first, struggling yet eager to come to terms with this new Universe unravelling itself before my eyes. I was excited to learn about each new animal species, and rooting for Zenn’s success with passing her various exovet tests. As the plot progressed, however, I noticed a disturbing trend when it came to gleaning new information about the world Zenn inhabited. Hamish, the cloister’s new alien sexton, took up the habit of asking Zenn questions about the towner’s reaction to the alien animals, or the reasons for their animosity towards alien species in general, which opened up convenient doors for Zenn to drop a bunch of info into their conversations. So, instead of having that information arise organically, we were put through Zenn’s history book-like regurgitation of the events. I also found that because of Zenn’s naiveté, the plot was extremely predictable. I had my hunches about a certain culprit, and was not the least surprised to find that my hunch was dead-on.Despite its few flaws, I still really enjoyed Zenn Scarlett. It did read more like a middle-grade novel at times, probably due to Zenn’s lack of world experience, which helped me to suspend a certain level of disbelief that that category generally requires. With a twist ending that left us with a rather large cliffhanger, not to mention several unresolved issues, Zenn Scarlett is most definitely only the first of a series that I hope to continue with!