✎Title: Under Nameless Stars (Zenn Scarlett #2)
✎Author: Christian Schoon
✎Publisher: Strange Chemistry
✎Publication date: 1st April 2014
It’s always disappointing to love the first book and dislike the next. I’ll say upfront that I found Under Nameless Stars a far too complicated book for its own good. By this I’m referring to the overly complex descriptions of the overly complex and overly numerous alien life forms. I’m down with aliens, totally. But when I’m faced with three, four, five paragraph long descriptions of aliens that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot envisage, again and again… It’s just too much. Too awkward and too complicated. Whatever Schoon was trying to convey, I just wasn’t getting it.
But that’s not all.
I feel it took too long for Zenn to wise up to what was going on, and the first 20% of the book was spent recapping the events of the first book to the new character involved. Quite literally: my Kindle told me so. That was just boring.
But to summarise: Zenn has left the relative safety of the Ciscan cluster after her kidnapping and although she has her issues with him and trust, Liam is with her. Together they are headed off Mars via the Helen of Troy starliner; Zenn to find her father, Liam to escape arrest. Regardless of Zenn’s insistence that he shouldn’t have anything to worry about concerning his coerced participation in the sabotage that almost destroyed the clinic Zenn calls home, he’s not so sure. They wind up on the starliner with a collection of colourful characters and find themselves closer to the very truths Zenn has been looking for the whole time. Could it be that Zenn will barely have to leave the starliner to find her father—and discover the reason behind her sympathetic link with the animals she treats? That all depends on just where the starliner ends up and how far Zenn is willing to go to save her father. Either way, the truth is far, far deeper and more involved than she might have imagined. Zenn will have to rely on new friends and newly sharpened wits in order to survive outside the cluster and to find out what really happened to her mother and why it affects her, all these years after the fact.
The truth is that Under Nameless Stars should have been epic. But it wasn’t. It was frustratingly slow and despite everything, I just couldn’t take seriously a dolphin in a mech-suit. I tried. Jules is hilarious and fabulous and— I’m sorry. I couldn’t imagine one way or another how his walksuit worked and in every situation Zenn and her friends found themselves, Jules just seemed a logistical nightmare. I couldn’t picture how he moved, how he looked (bar being, y’know, a dolphin) or how he managed to keep up and remain alongside Zenn and co. throughout everything that took place. Because a dolphin in a mecha isn’t exactly a rikkaset in a backpack. There’s definitely a difference.
I love the fact that Schoon tried to include so many colourful descriptions of aliens and other races of humanesque beings, but… I think there’s too much and it clutters the view. Like a garden with way, way too many flowers: all pretty and exciting when taken separately, but when you bung everything together, there’s just way too much colour, foliage and the scent is overwhelming. Under Nameless Stars felt a little like that. Which sucks because I wanted to love this with all my heart.
But I didn’t. Not even close.
I also grew increasingly more and more irritated by the fact that I’d pieced together most of the reason behind Zenn’s link with the animals (granted, not the why-the-why) at the end of the last book and it took Zenn having it literally spelled out to her for it to click. I didn’t buy that. Zenn is a smart cookie: she’d have been all over this if she’d just sat down and thought about everything. She’s a scientist. She keeps thinking about how science is the one thing she can believe in… and so I’m expected to believe she hasn’t wanted to sit down and think about what she knows? I just didn’t buy it. I felt it dragged things out in the most irritating of ways by dumbing her down, making her a little less savvy. That’s not the Zenn I fell in love with. That’s a different Zenn. I’m experiencing the same sort of formula in another YA book I’m reading at the moment, and it’s frustrating that I only ever see this sort of behaviour from girls.
I can maybe let it slide with the fact that Zenn’s a little freaked out to maybe think properly at the moment, what with her dad missing—but then if you bring it back to that whole “science is the way I roll” fact, it sticks a little harder. I wish I could let it slide. But I can’t. The pacing was messy, the settings confusing and parts of the book (namely the lead up to the end) read like a bad dungeon crawl. I’ve played sci-fi RPG campaigns before, and that’s not how you do a dungeon crawl—hence the “bad” part. I just couldn’t warm to it.
The first thing I did love, however, was Zenn’s awkwardness with Liam. That, I adored. That was true to Zenn’s character. It was deliciously awkward and read perfectly. There’s a hint of blossoming romance yet at the same time, there’s not. But then there is. It’s ideal and I really liked that Zenn is so clueless—for good reason!—as to how to act with someone, let alone a boy. It was exactly what I wanted. I liked how Zenn’s interactions with Liam on a relationship level were vaguely Asperger’s-y/HFA. Definitely a hit with me.
Furthermore, I liked the concept of the starliner, which was basically a cruise ship in space. Definitely original. The ball, the layout—everything. It was different and I felt it accommodated the plot perfectly. I do think Zenn’s meeting Jules was a tad too easy, too convenient, but that’s usually the sort of thing I’ll let slip if it’s not too cringe-worthy. And this wasn’t. But on the subject of Jules, what irked me more than the mech-suit was his obsession with books. Not his obsession with stories or novels—but books. He keeps talking about paperbacks when specifically the level of literary technology has developed far past mass market paperbacks and into the electronic. It’s the same with the rest of the tech. So this supposedly endearing side of Jules was met with annoyance because of lack of setting logic. It’s often the case with sci-fi that people don’t think about what you can and cannot make passing references to. It’s the little things people let slide. I’ve seen space stations with strict air control and then characters lighting up a cigarette. Yeah, right. You can’t smoke in many public places now, let alone somewhere where your air is delivered. But that’s a passing irk—and wasn’t really Jules’ fault.
I liked how the story ended, but it seemed too neat and too wrapped-up. Usually I’m a fan of clean, happy endings, but something seemed lacking overall. There was no pizzazz and I missed that from the first book. I’m guessing this is a duology, since the story is essentially wrapped up. Sure, Zenn could have more adventures, so who knows?
Overall this book just didn’t hit the spot with me. I wasn’t buying whatever it was selling. It seemed so weak a book to follow on from Zenn Scarlett, so I’m hardly surprised that with me, it fell flat on its face. Horribly disappointed and loath to give a book a two-star review when the first was so good—but then I’m not reviewing the first, so my hands are tied.
Slow and clunky and definitely a far cry from the expert storytelling and character development of the first book. Worth reading to tie things up and complete the story arcs, but it would certainly not make the top of my reading list. Fun in places, but sluggish in others, which—for me and how I read—only added to the overall reading time. Which isn’t a good thing for me. Give it a go for completion’s sake, but do not expect a second Zenn Scarlett, because this isn’t it.